Methods have been developed for the isolation on a semi-micro scale of a plasma membrane-enriched fraction from rat islets of Langerhans. An important feature of these experiments is the use of 125I-labeled wheat germ agglutinin as a specific probe for plasma membrane-containing fractions. The partly purified plasma membrane fraction had a density in sucrose of about 1.10 and was enriched in the activities of 5'-nucleotidase, alkaline phosphatase, sodium-potassium, and magnesium-dependent ATPase and adenylate cyclase. It contained only very low levels of acid phosphatase, cytochrome c oxidase, insulin, and RNA. Further purification was hampered by the relatively small amounts of fresh plasma membrane material that could be obtained from 16-24 rats in each experiment. When islets were prelabeled with radioactive fucose, the plasma membrane-enriched fraction contained radioactivity at a four- to fivefold higher specific acivity than the whole islet homogenate. Sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of plasma membrane-enriched fractions pooled from several experiments revealed a distinctive pattern of protein bands as compared with other less pure fractions. With respect to rapidity, apparent specificity, and easy reversibility of the labeling of the plasma membrane fraction, 125I-wheat germ agglutinin provides a highly useful tool for the detection of microgram quantities of plasma membrane components which should be applicable to many other systems as well.

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