Meiosis I metaphase spindles were isolated from oocytes of the sea-star Pisaster ochraceus by a method that produced no detectable net loss in spindle birefringence. Some of the spindles were fixed immediately and embedded and sectioned for electron microscopy. Others were laminated between gelatine pellicles in a perfusion chamber, then fixed and sequentially and reversibly imbibed with a series of media of increasing refractive indices. Electron microscopy showed little else besides microtubules in the isolates, and no other component present could account for the observed form birefringence. An Ambronn plot of the birefringent retardation measured during imbibition was a good least squares fit to a computer generated theoretical curve based on the Bragg-Pippard rederivation of the Wiener curve for form birefringence. The data were best fit by the curve for rodlet index (n1) = 1.512, rodlet volume fraction (f) = 0.0206, and coefficient of intrinsic birefringence = 4.7 X 10(-5). The value obtained for n1 is unequivocal and is virtually as good as the refractometer determinations of imbibing medium index on which it is based. The optically interactive volume of the microtubule subunit, calculated from our electron microscope determination of spindle microtubule distribution (106/mum2), 13 protofilaments per microtubules, an 8 nm repeat distance and our best value for f, is compatible with known subunit dimensions as determined by other means. We also report curves fitted to the results of Ambronn imbibition of Bouin's-fixed Lytechinus spindles and to the Noll and Weber muscle imbibition data.

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