The freeze-fracture technique was used to study changes in the corneal fibroblast cell membrane during morphogenesis in chick embryos. Fibroblasts migrate into the acellular primary corneal stroma on day 6 of embryogenesis, moving between the orthogonal layers of collagen fibrils which serve as their substratum. Morphometric analysis of the intramembrane particles (IMP) reveals their concentration on the P face to decrease from 756 to 534/mum2 from day 6 to day 14. After day 14, fibroblast migration and cell division cease and the stroma condenses due to dehydration, so that by day 18 all of the layers of fibroblasts are extremely flattened and the cornea has taken on its mature, transparent form. The cell membranes of the terminally differentiated, highly compacted fibroblasts are rich in IMP (1,300/MUM2, P face). In seeking to relate the particle increase to cell differentiation, we analyzed synthetic events taking place at this time, but no correlation, we analyzed synthetic events taking place at this time, but no correlation with 25SO4 or proline-3H incorporation was found. The event which seems best correlated with the doubling of P face particles between days 15 and 18 is the dehydration and condensation of the stroma, an event which is associated with cessation of both cell division and migration. Thyroxine stimulates premature condensation of the stroma, whereas thiouracil delays condensation, but neither of these treatments affects IMP concentration. Interestingly, IMP concentration on the filopodia of migrating fibroblasts is similar to that on the cell bodies, suggesting that the new membrane has the same composition as the pre-existing membrane. Observations are also presented on tight and gap junctions between fibroblasts and on the relation of extracellular matrix to the outer etched surface of the fibroblast plasmalemma.

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