It was previously found that cations introduced into a discontinuous sucrose gradient exert a very pronounced effect on microsomal vesicles, and this principle proved to be effective in microsomal subfractionation. The mechanism of the cation effect was investigated. By using the radioactive isotopes 137Cs and 85Sr, it could be calculated that the amount of ions bound to the various subfractions increases their density by 0.14%, thereby enhancing the sedimentation velocity by only ∼7%. In the presence of Cs+ the total volume of the microsomal pellet was decreased by ∼15%. Assuming this change in volume to be due to a contraction of the individual vesicles, a roughly 2½-fold increase in sedimentation velocity would be expected. It is further demonstrated, on the basis of light scattering and millipore filtration experiments, that monovalent cations cause an extensive aggregation of rough microsomes and a less pronounced aggregation of smooth microsomes. The mean radius of the sedimenting particles of rough microsomes was found to be at least doubled or trebled in the presence of Cs+, which would give a 4- to 9-fold increase in the sedimentation velocity. Aggregation, therefore, appears to be the main factor in the accelerated sedimentation of rough microsomes in the presence of CsCl. Divalent cations exert a similar effect on a subfraction of the smooth microsomes. Isolated smooth microsomes are very unstable and often exhibit spontaneous aggregation. The presence of attached ribosomes, however, appears to impart greater stability to the rough microsomes as well as increasing their ability to bind monovalent cations. The primary cause of the aggregation of microsomal vesicles is probably due to a change in net charge.

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