We have investigated the structure of the small nuclear RNP (snRNP) U1 by combining EM of complete and partially protein-deficient particles with immunoelectron microscopy employing mAbs against known components of the U1 snRNP. It was found that the two main protuberances of this particle can be identified with the U1-specific proteins A and 70K. The 70K protuberance is the one lying closer to the 5' terminus of the snRNA, as identified by its 5'-terminal m3G cap. The round-shaped main body of U1 snRNP represents its core RNP domain containing the common snRNP proteins. Functional implications of these results are discussed. Our results may also point to the physical basis for the production of autoantibodies directed against specific groups of snRNP proteins. The physical grouping of the common proteins (Sm epitopes) and the specific proteins (RNP epitopes) could result in one or the other being presented to the immune system as is the case in patients suffering from SLE or MCTD, respectively.

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