The A filament of the striated muscle sarcomere is an ordered aggregate of one or a few species of proteins. Ordering of these filaments into a parallel array is the basis of birefringence in the A region, and loss of birefringence is therefore a measure of decreased order. Heating caused a large decrease in the birefringence of glycerinated rabbit psoas muscle fibers over a narrow temperature range (∼3°C) and a large decrease in both the birefringence and optical density of the A region of Drosophila melanogaster fibrils. These changes were interpreted as a loss of A filament structure and were used to define a transition temperature (Ttr) as a measure of the stability of the A region. Since the transition temperature was sensitive to pH, ionic strength, and urea, solvent conditions which often affect protein structure, it is an experimentally useful indicator for factors affecting the structure of the A filament. Fibers from glycerinated frog muscle were less stable over a wide pH range than fibers from glycerinated rabbit muscle, a fact which demonstrates a species difference in structure. Glycerinated rabbit fibrils heated to 70°C shortened to about 40% of their initial length. The extent of shortening was not correlated with the loss of birefringence, and phase-contrast microscopy showed that this shortening occurred in the I region as well as in the A region. This response may be useful for studying the I filament and actin in much the same way that the decrease in birefringence was used for studying the A filament and myosin. The observations presented show that some properties of muscle proteins can be studied essentially in situ without the necessity of first dispersing the structure in solutions of high or low ionic strength.

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