The specificity of the Barrnett-Seligman method for the histochemical demonstration of α-acylamido carboxyl groups (C terminal) of proteins is dependent on the conversion of such groups to ketones by the action of acetic anhydride and absolute pyridine. Studies on model compounds show that the side-chain carboxyl groups also react in the method and that most of the final color developed can be attributed to these carboxyls, rather than to the C terminal carboxyl groups. It is postulated that the side-chain carboxyls react by formation of mixed anhydrides in the presence of acetic anhydride and pyridine. This mixed anhydride then could link with a hydrazide to form a dihydrazide, which is capable of coupling with a diazo dye. Acetic anhydride treatment alone, without pyridine, also yields mixed anhydride. The mixed anhydride derived from the side-chain carboxyls can be destroyed by base, whereas the methyl ketone derived from the C terminal carboxyl is unaffected, and this treatment makes the method specific for C terminal carboxyl groups. Tissues treated in such a fashion demonstrate that all the color reaction obtained in the method is due to side-chain carboxyls, and that C terminal groups yield little or no staining as would be expected for "average" molecular weight proteins.

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