A fraction enriched in synaptic complexes has been isolated from rat brain. The major structural elements of synaptic complexes after isolation are a sector of pre- and postsynaptic plasma membranes joined together by a synaptic cleft and a postsynaptic density (PSD) located on the inner surface of the postsynaptic membrane. On its outer surface, the postsynaptic membrane has a series of projections which extend about halfway into the cleft and which occur along the entire length of the PSD. Proteolytic enzymes at high concentrations remove the PSD and open the synaptic cleft; at low concentrations the PSD is selectively destroyed. By contrast, the structural integrity of the PSD is resistant to treatment with NaCl, EGTA, and low concentrations of urea. Pre- and postsynaptic membranes also remain joined by the synaptic cleft after NaCl, EGTA, or mild urea treatment. High concentrations of urea cause the partial dissociation of the PSD. We conclude that polypeptides are probably one of the major components of the PSD and that the structural integrity of the PSD depends on polypeptides because disruption of the covalent or hydrophobic bonding of these polypeptides leads to a progressive loss of PSD structure.

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