A repeating particle associated with the cristae and the inner membrane of the external envelope has been recognized and characterized in beef heart mitochondria by correlated electron microscopic and biochemical studies. Many thousands (ca. 104 to 105) of these particles, disposed in regular arrays, are present in a single mitochondrion. The repeating particle, called the elementary particle (EP), consists of three parts: (1) a spherical or polyhedral head piece (80 to 100 A in diameter); (2) a cylindrical stalk (about 50 A long and 30 to 40 A wide); and (3) a base piece (40 x 110 A). The base pieces of the elementary particles form an integral part of the outer dense layers of the cristae. The elementary particles can be seen in electron micrographs of mitochondria in situ, of isolated mitochondria, and of submitochondrial particles with a complete electron transfer chain. Negative staining with phosphotungstate is only one of several techniques that can be used for reproducible demonstration of the repeating particles and underlying subunit organization of mitochondrial membranes. A particulate unit containing a complete electron transfer chain can be isolated from beef heart mitochondria. The isolated unit approximates in size that of the elementary particle in situ. The molecular weight of the particle in situ is calculated to be 1.3 x 106. Evidence is presented for identifying the isolated unit with the elementary particle visualized in situ. The elementary particle of the mitochondrion is believed to be a prototype of a class of functional particles or macromolecular assemblies of similar size found in association with membranes generally.

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