Pulmonary endothelial cells are capable of metabolizing a variety of circulating hormonal substances. Indirect evidence indicates that some of the relevant enzymes are located on the plasma membrane. The associated caveolae are of special interest as globular subunits, possibly enzyme clusters, are evident in their membranes. In the present study, freeze-etch techniques were used to improve understanding of the fine structure of endothelial cells and to extend our investigations of possible sites of enzymes capable of metabolizing circulating vasoactive agents. As in other cells studied by freeze-etching, intramembranous particles are found on both inner aspects of the plasma membrane. In undifferentiated areas of plasma membrane, the particles appear to have a random distribution. These areas fracture such that approximately equal proportions of the particles adhere to the cytoplasmic aspect of the outer leaflet and the extracellular aspect of the inner leaflet. However, the particles organize into rosettes and plaques at the base of caveolae, and, after fracture, the rosettes and plaques adhere predominantly to the cytoplasmic aspect of the outer leaflet. The peculiar organization of particles in association with caveolae supports the concept that caveolae have a stomal skeletal structure and raises the possibility that the organization may be in some way related to pinocytosis.

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