Glomerular development was studied in the newborn rat kidney by electron microscopy and cytochemistry. Glomerular structure at different developmental stages was related to the permeability properties of its components and to the differentiation of anionic sites in the glomerular basement membrane (GBM) and on endothelial and epithelia cell surfaces. Cationic probes (cationized ferritin, ruthenium red, colloidal iron) were used to determine the time of appearance and distribution of anionic sites, and digestion with specific enzymes (neuraminidase, heparinase, chondroitinases, hyaluronidases) was used to determine their nature. Native (anionic) ferritin was used to investigate glomerular permeability. The main findings were: (a) The first endothelial fenestrae (which appear before the GBM is fully assembled) possess transient, negatively charged diaphragms that bind cationized ferritin and are impermeable to native ferritin. (b). Two types of glycosaminoglycan particles can be identified by staining with ruthenium red. Large (30-nm) granules are seen only in the cleft of the S-shaped body at the time of mesenchymal migration into the renal vesicle. They consist of hyaluronic acid and possibly also chondroitin sulfate. Smaller (10-15-nm) particles are seen in the earliest endothelial and epithelial basement membranes (S-shaped body stage), become concentrated in the laminae rarae after fusion of these two membranes to form the GBM, and contain heparan sulfate. They are assumed to be precursors of the heparan sulfate-rich granules present in the mature GBM. (c) Distinctive sialic acid-rich, and sialic acid-poor plasmalemmal domains have been delineated on both the epithelial and endothelial cell surfaces. (d) The appearance of sialoglycoproteins on the epithelial cell surface concides with the development of foot processes and filtration slits. (e) Initially the GBM is loosely organized and quite permeable to native ferritin ;it becomes increasinly impermeable to ferritin as the lamina densa becomes more compact. (f) The number of endothelial fenestrae and open epithelial slits increases as the GBM matures and becomes organized into an effective barrier to the passage of native ferritin.

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