An "apical endocytic complex" in the ileal lining cells of suckling rats is described. The complex consists of a continuous network of membrane-limited tubules which originate as invaginations of the apical plasma membrane at the base of the microvilli, some associated vesicles, and a giant vacuole. The lumenal surface of this tubular network of membranes and associated vesicles is covered with a regular repeating particulate structure. The repeating unit is an ∼7.5-nm diameter particle which has a distinct subunit structure composed of possibly nine smaller particles each ∼3 nm in diameter. The ∼7.5-nm diameter particles are joined together with a center-to-center separation of ∼15 nm to form long rows. These linear aggregates, when arranged laterally, give rise to several square and oblique two-dimensional lattice arrangements of the particles which cover the surface of the membrane. Whether a square or oblique lattice is generated depends on the center-to-center separation of the rows and on the relative displacement of the particles in adjacent rows.
Four membrane faces are revealed by fracturing frozen membranes of the apical tubules and vesicles: two complementary inner membrane faces exposed by the fracturing process and the lumenal and cytoplasmic membrane surfaces revealed by etching. The outer membrane face reveals a distinct array of membrane particles. This array also sometimes can be seen on the outer (B) fracture face and is sometimes faintly visible on the inner (A) fracture face. Combined data from sectioned, negatively stained, and freeze-etched preparations indicate that this regular particulate structure is a specialization that is primarily localized in the outer half of the membrane mainly in the outer leaflet.