Cultures of embryonic mouse spinal cord explants, alone or in combination with rat myotubes, were stained by indirect immunofluorescence using antibodies against three structural proteins to: (a) reveal the distribution of these proteins among different cell types, and (b) test the usefulness of antibody staining to reveal the gross morphology of the neurite network in complex cultures. Affinity column purified antibodies were used against chicken gizzard actin, porcine brain tubulin, and skeletal muscle alpha-actinin. Neurites were stained intensely by anti-actin as was the stress fiber pattern of underlying fibroblasts. With anti-tubulin, the staining of neurites was an order of magnitude more intense than the staining of the microtubule pattern of background fibroblasts. Neurite cell bodies and astrocyte-like glia cells were stained with anti-tubulin and their nuclei remained unstained. Anti-tubulin could thus be used to trace even the finest extensions of nerve processes in spinal cord and spinal cord-muscle cultures. Furthermore, it could be combined with the histochemical reaction for acetylcholinesterase (AChE, EC to demonstrate AChE-positive neurons and specialized nerve-muscle contact sites. The staining of neural elements with anti-alpha-actinin was generally much weaker than with anti-actin and anti-tubulin. Neurites were stained only moderately in comparison to myotube Z lines in the same culture. However, a distinct staining of the periphery of dorsal root ganglion cells was observed. Thus, a protein immunologically related to muscle alpha-actinin is present in the nervous system. In myotubes, Z lines were stained intensely with anti-alpha-actinin while I bands were only faintly stained with anti-actin. In isolated myofibrils, both structures were stained intensely with the same antibody preparations.

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