Smooth muscle tissue from mouse urinary bladder, uterus, and gall bladder has been studied by means of the electron microscope. The smooth muscle cells are distinctly and completely separated from each other by a cytolemma comparable to the sarcolemma of striated muscle. The tissue is thus cellular and not syncytial. With this evidence, supported by electron microscopy of other tissues, we question the existence of true syncytia in animal tissues. Individual cell membranes necessary for the electrophysiologic events exist in smooth muscle, and its nerve and conduction in a tissue such as uterus or bladder can occur at the cellular level as well as at the tissue area level.
The smooth muscle cell contains myofilaments, nucleus, endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, Golgi complex, centrosome, and pinocytotic vesicles. These structures are described in some detail, and their probable interrelations and functions are discussed.
The autonomic nerves innervating smooth muscle cells are composed of axons and lemnoblasts. The axon is suspended by the mesaxon formed by the infolded plasma membrane of the lemnoblast. The respective plasma membranes separate axon and lemnoblast from each other and from surrounding muscle cells. The axons of autonomic nerves never penetrate the plasma membrane of the muscle cell, but pass or intrude into muscle cell pockets, forming a contact between axonal plasma membrane and smooth muscle plasma membrane. The lemnoblast shows well developed endoplasmic reticulum with Palade granules, mitochondria, and a long, elliptical nucleus. The axon contains neurofilaments, mitochondria, and synaptic vesicles; the quantity of the latter two being significantly greater in the periphery of lemnoblasts and near axon-muscle contact regions. We regard the contact regions as the synapses between the autonomic nerves and the smooth muscle cells.