The development of the endoplasmic reticulum of rat hepatocytes was studied during a period of rapid cell differentiation, i.e., from 3 days before to 8 days after birth. Before birth, the ER increases in volume, remaining predominantly rough surfaced; after birth, the increase continues but affects mainly the smooth-surfaced part of the system. These changes are reflected in variations of the RNA/protein and PLP/protein ratios of microsomal fractions: the first decreases, while the second increases, with age. The analysis of microsomal membranes and of microsomal lipids indicates that the PLP/protein ratio, the distribution of phospholipids, and the rate of P32 incorporation into these phospholipids show little variation over the period examined and are comparable to values found in adult liver. Fatty acid composition of total phosphatides undergoes, however, drastic changes after birth. During the period of rapid ER development in vivo incorporation of leucine-C14 and glycerol-C14 into the proteins and lipids of microsomal membranes is higher in the rough-than in the smooth-surfaced microsomes, for the first hours after the injection of the label; later on (∼10 hr) the situation is reversed. These results strongly suggest that new membrane is synthesized in the rough ER and subsequently transferred to the smooth ER.

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