An electron microscope study has been made of the distribution of membrane couplings between the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) and either the plasmalemma or the T tubules in fetal and neonatal rat intercostal muscle. Within primitive muscle cells at 12 days of gestation, the SR forms both simple and specialized membrane junctions with the plasmalemma; caveolae are very few, and T tubules are not detected. Undifferentiated cells neighbor muscle cells. Occasionally these cells contain subsurface couplings between the endoplasmic reticulum and plasmalemmae. Possible relationships between these couplings and the peripheral couplings of muscle cells are discussed. By 15–18 days of gestation, caveolae and beaded T tubules, comparable to those of cultured muscle, develop; T tubules lie along-side myofibrils and are rarely transverse. SR couples both to T tubules and to plasmalemmae during this period. T tubules with lineal profiles appear after further development and their orientation transverse to A–I junctions becomes increasingly evident. Membrane couplings between SR and T tubules also increase in number, whereas the incidence of peripheral coupling declines rapidly Evidence suggests that peripheral couplings are swept into myotubes as caveolae proliferate and T tubules form. SR thus appears to initially couple with the plasmalemma and then to await T tubular growth. This contrasts with the developmental pattern described in cultured chick muscle in which peripheral couplings are not reported and T tubules with diads and triads occur at very primitive stages of muscle differentiation.

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