The neuromuscular junctions and nonjunctional sarcolemmas of mammalian skeletal muscle fibers were studied by conventional thin-section electron microscopy and freeze-fracture techniques. A modified acetylcholinesterase staining procedure that is compatible with light microscopy, conventional thin-section electron microscopy, and freeze-fracture techniques is described. Freeze-fracture replicas were utilized to visualize the internal macromolecular architecture of the nerve terminal membrane, the chemically excitable neuromuscular junction postsynaptic folds, and the electrically excitable nonjunctional sarcolemma. The nerve terminal membrane is characterized by two parallel rows of 100–110-Å particles which may be associated with synpatic vesicle fusion and release. On the postsynpatic folds, irregular rows of densely packed 110–140-Å particles were observed and evidence is assembled which indicates that these large transmembrane macromolecules may represent the morphological correlate for functional acetylcholine receptor activity in mammalian motor endplates. Differences in the size and distribution of particles in mammalian as compared with amphibian and fish postsynaptic junctional membranes are correlated with current biochemical and electron micrograph autoradiographic data. Orthogonal arrays of 60-Å particles were observed in the split postsynaptic sarcolemmas of many diaphragm myofibers. On the basis of differences in the number and distribution of these "square" arrays within the sarcolemmas, two classes of fibers were identified in the diaphragm. Subsequent confirmation of the fiber types as fast- and slow-twitch fibers (Ellisman et al. 1974. J. Cell Biol. 63[2, Pt. 2]:93 a. [Abstr.]) may indicate a possible role for the square arrays in the electrogenic mechanism. Experiments in progress involving specific labeling techniques are expected to permit positive identification of many of these intriguing transmembrane macromolecules.

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