Small vascular units consisting of an arteriole, its capillaries, and the emerging venule (ACV units) were identified in the rat omentum and mesentery. They were fixed in situ and processed for electron microscopy either as whole units or as dissected segments. Systematic examination of the latter (in thin sections, as well as in freeze-cleaved preparations) showed that the intercellular junctions of the vascular endothelium vary characteristically from one segment to another in the microvasculature. In arterioles, the endothelium has continuous and elaborate tight junctions with interpolated large gap junctions. The capillary endothelium is provided with tight junctions formed by either branching or staggered strands; gap junctions are absent at this level. The pericytic venules exhibit loosely organized endothelial junctions with discontinuous low-profile ridges and grooves, usually devoid of particles. No gap junctions were found in these vessels. The endothelium of muscular venules has the same type of junctions (discontinuous ridges and grooves of low profile); in addition, it displays isolated gap junctions of smaller size and lower frequency than in arterioles. The term communicating junction (macula communicans) is proposed as a substitute for gap junctions, since the latter is inappropriate, in general, and confusing in the special case of the vascular endothelium.

This content is only available as a PDF.