Cryosection immunofluorescence and immunogold labeling with antibodies against specific markers were used in rat vas deferens smooth muscle fibers to reveal the molecular arrangement of the endomembrane system (referred to variously in the text as ER or sarcoplasmic reticulum [SR]; S-ER or ER/SR) known to participate in the control of Ca2+ homeostasis. The lumenal ER chaperon, immunoglobulin binding protein (BiP), as well as protein disulfide isomerase, and calreticulin, a Ca2+ binding protein expressed by most eukaryotic cells, appeared to be evenly distributed throughout the entire system (i.e., within [a] the nuclear envelope and the few rough-surfaced cisternae clustered near the nucleus; [b] single elements scattered around in the contractile cytoplasm; and [c] numerous, heterogeneous, mainly smooth-surfaced elements concentrated in the peripheral cytoplasm, part of which is in close apposition to the plasmalemma). All other structures, including nuclei, mitochondria, Golgi complex, and surface caveolae were unlabeled. An even distribution throughout the endomembrane system appeared also for the proteins recognized by anti-ER membrane antibodies. In contrast, calsequestrin (the protein that in striated muscles is believed to be the main actor of the rapidly exchanging Ca2+ storage within the lumen of the sarcoplasmic reticulum) was found preferentially clustered at discrete lumenal sites, most often within peripheral smooth-surfaced elements of moderate electron density. Within these elements dual labeling revealed intermixing of calsequestrin with the other lumenal ER proteins. Moreover, the calsequestrin-rich elements were enriched also in the receptor for inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate, the second messenger that induces Ca2+ release from intracellular stores. These results document the previously hypothesized molecular heterogeneity of the smooth muscle endomembrane system, particularly in relation to the rapid storage and release of Ca2+.

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