The ultrastructural organization and the composition of newly synthesized glycosaminoglycan (GAG) in the epithelial basal lamina of mouse embryo submandibular glands were assessed. The labeled GAG accumulating in the lamina is distinct from that in its tissue of origin, the epithelium, or from that in the surrounding mesenchyme. In the lamina, hyaluronic acid accounts for approximately 50% of the labeled GAG, chondroitin-4-sulfate is twice the chondroitin-6-sulfate, and there is a low proportion of chondroitin. This composition is constant regardless of whether the lamina is labeled by whole glands or, in the absence of mesenchyme, by isolated epithelia retaining a lamina and by isolated epithelia generating a lamina de novo. The results andicate that the labeled GAG are bona fide components of the lamina, and suggest that laminar GAG is deposited in units of constant composition. Ultrastructural observations following ruthenium red staining or tannic acid fixation extablish that the lamina is a highly ordered specialization of the basal cell surface. Discrete structures in macroperiodic arrays apparently attached to the plasmalemma are visualized. This organization is seen in intact glands and in the laminae produced by epithelia in the absence of mesenchyme or biological substrate. The data are interpreted as indicating that the basal lamina contains supramolecular complexes of hyaluronic acid and proteoglycan which are organized into an extracellular scaffolding which imposes structural form on the epithelium.

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