Heavy meromyosin (HMM) decoration of actin filaments was used to detect the polarity of microfilaments in interphase and cleaving rat kangaroo (PtK2) cells. Ethanol at -20 degrees C was used to make the cells permeable to HMM followed by tannic acid-glutaraldehyde fixation for electron microscopy. Uniform polarity of actin filaments was observed at cell junctions and central attachment plaques with the HMM arrowheads always pointing away from the junction or plaque. Stress fibers were banded in appearance with their component microfilaments exhibiting both parallel and antiparallel orientation with respect to one another. Identical banding of microfilament bundles was also seen in cleavage furrows with the same variation in filament polarity as found in stress fibers. Similarly banded fibers were not seen outside the cleavage furrow in mitotic cells. By the time that a mid-body was present, the actin filaments in the cleavage furrow were no longer in banded fibers. The alternating dark and light bands of both the stress fibers and cleavage furrow fibers are approximately equal in length, each measuring approximately 0.16 micrometer. Actin filaments were present in both bands, and individual decorated filaments could sometimes be traced through four band lengths. Undecorated filaments, 10 nm in diameter, could often be seen within the light bands. A model is proposed to explain the arrangement of filaments in stress fibers and cleavage furrows based on the striations observed with tannic acid and the polarity of the actin filaments.

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