Electron probe analysis of dry cryosections was used to determine the composition of the cytoplasm and organelles of rabbit portal-anterior mesenteric vein (PAMV) smooth muscle. All analytical values given are in mmol/kg wt +/- SEM. Cytoplasmic concentrations in normal, resting muscles were: K, 611 +/- 1.7; Na, 167 +/- 2.7; Cl, 278 +/- 1.0; Mg, 36 +/- 1.1; Ca, 1.9 +/- 0.5; and P, 247 +/- 1.1. Hence, the sum of intracellular Na + K exceeded cytoplasmic Cl by 500 mmol/kg dry wt, while the calculated total, nondiffusible solute was approximately 50 mmol/kg. Cytoplasmic K and Cl were increased in smooth muscles incubated in solutions containing an excess (80 mM) of KCl. Nuclear and cytoplasmic Na and Ca concentrations were not significantly different. The mitochondrial Ca content in normal fibers was low, 0.8 +/- 0.5, and there was no evidence of mitochondrial Ca sequestration in muscles frozen after a K contracture lasint 30 min. Transmitochondrial gradients of K, Na, and Cl were small (0.9--1.2). In damaged fibers, massive mitochondrial Ca accumulation of up to 2 mol/kg dry wt in granule form and associated with P could be demonstrated. Our findings suggest (a) that the nonDonnan distribution of Cl in smooth muscle is not caused by sequestration in organelles, and that considerations of osmotic equilibrium and electroneutrality suggest the existence of unidentified nondiffusible anions in smooth muscle, (b) that nuclei do not contain concentrations of Na or Ca in excess of cytoplasmic levels, (c) that mitochondria in PAMV smooth muscle do not play a major role in regulating cytoplasmic Ca during physiological levels of contraction but can be massively Ca loaded in damaged cells, and (d) that the in situ transmitochondrial gradients of K, Na, and Cl do not show these ions to be distributed according to a large electromotive Donnan force.

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