1. A close correlation has been obtained between high resolution electron microscopy and low-angle x-ray diffraction studies of the myelin sheath of frog and rat peripheral and central nerves. Extensive studies were performed by application of both techniques to the same specimens, prepared for examination by OsO4 or KMnO4 fixation, and embedding either in methacrylate or in gelatin employing a new procedure. Controlled physical and chemical modifications of the myelin sheath prior to fixation were also investigated.
2. A correspondence was established between the layer spacings observed in electron micrographs and the fundamental radial repeating unit indicated by the low-angle x-ray diffraction patterns. The variations in relative intensities of the low-angle x-ray reflections could be related to the radial density distributions seen in the electron micrographs.
3. An analysis of the preparation procedures revealed that OsO4 fixation introduces a greater shrinkage of the layer spacings and more pronounced changes in the density distribution within the layers than KMnO4 fixation. The effects of methacrylate and gelatin embedding are described, and their relative merits considered in relation to the preservation of myelin structure by OsO4 fixation.
4. The experimental modifications introduced by freezing and thawing of fresh whole nerve are described, particularly the enhancement of the intermediate lines and the dissociation of the layer components in the myelin sheath. A characteristic collapsing of the radial period of the sheath is observed after subjecting fresh nerve trunks to prolonged and intense ultracentrifugation.
5. Controlled extraction of fresh nerve with acetone at 0°C., which preferentially removes cholesterol, produces characteristic, differentiated modifications of the myelin sheath structure. Electron microscopy reveals several types of modifications within a single preparation, including both expanded and collapsed layer systems, and internal rearrangements of the layer components. Alcohol extraction leads to a more extensive structural breakdown, but in certain areas collapsed layer systems can still be observed. The components of the lipide extracts could be identified by means of x-ray diffraction. These modifications emphasize the importance of cholesterol in the myelin structure, and disclose a resistance of the dense osmiophilic lines to lipide solvents.
6. The significance of these structures is discussed in relation to present concepts of the molecular organization of myelin. The available evidence is consistent with the suggestion that the primary site of osmium deposition is at the lipoprotein interfaces and that the light bands probably represent regions occupied by lipide chains. The electron microscope and x-ray diffraction data also indicate the possibility of a regular organization within the plane of the layers, probably involving units of 60 to 80 A. The myelin sheath is regarded as a favourable cell membrane model for detailed analysis by combined application of x-ray diffraction and electron microscopy.