Scanning electron microscopy reveals that the free surfaces of stratified squamous epithelial cells lining the alimentary tract, cornea, and conjunctiva exhibit characteristic ridge-like folds of plasmalemma. These microplicae are approximately 0.1-0.2 micronm in width, of variable height (0.2-0.8 micronm) and length, may followstraight or winding paths, often branch, and exhibit a wide variety of patterns over the surfaces of cells. Transmission electron microscopy reveals that microplicae often have a fine (100-150 A) electron-dense zone subjacent to their plasmalemma and an intracellular matrix characterized by a disorderly arrary of fine filaments (40-60 A in diameter). Microplicae appear to arise from plasmalemmal fold which once provided for intercellular interdigitation and desmosome abhesion between adjacent cells. Ruthenium red staining demonstrates that microplicae and interplical grooves are covered with a polyanionic glycocalyx. Although free surface microplicae may merely represent the renmants of intercellular interdigitations or a modified expression of microvillous-like extensions, it is also possible that they serve another specific function. In this regard it is speculated that microplical and interplical grooves may function to hold a layer of lubricating and cushioning mucin designed to protect the underlying plasmalemma from abrasive abuse.

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