Fixation of purified sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) membrane vesicles, using glutaraldehyde supplemented with 1% tannic acid, reveals newly visualized ultrastructure in thin sections. The trilaminar appearance of the membrane is highly asymmetric; the outer electron-opaque layer is appreciably wider (70 A) than the inner layer (20 A). The asymmetry is not referable to lack of penetration of the tannic acid since: (a) SR vesicles made permeable with 1 mM EDTA, pH 8.5, show similar asymmetry; (b) treatment of SR with trypsin results in progressive loss in protein content and decrease in the thickness of the outer layer, until in the limit the trilayer has a symmetric appearance; (c) within the same muscle section, the SR membrane appears highly asymmetric whereas the sarcolemma has a more symmetric appearance; (d) reconstituted SR vesicles have a symmetric appearance with equally broad inner and outer layers (approximately 70 A); the symmetric structure is confirmed by freeze-fracture and negative staining electron microscopy. Heavy and light SR vesicles obtained by isopycnic density sedimentation of purified SR have the same asymmetric appearance of the membrane and seem to differ mainly in that the heavy vesicles contain internal contents consisting largely of Ca++-binding protein. The asymmetry of the SR membrane is referable mainly to the unidirectional alignment of the Ca++ pump protein, the major component (90% of the protein) of the membrane. The asymmetry of the SR membrane can be visualized now for the first time in situ in thin sections of muscle.

This content is only available as a PDF.