Preparations of isolated brain postsynaptic densities (PSDs) contain a characteristic set of proteins among which the most prominent has a molecular weight of approximately 50,000. Following the suggestion that this major PSD protein might be related to a similarly sized component of neurofilaments (F. Blomberg et al., 1977, J. Cell Biol., 74:214-225), we searched for evidence of neurofilament proteins among the PSD polypeptides. This was done with a novel technique for detecting protein antigens in SDS-polyacrylamide gels (immunoblotting) and an antiserum that was selective for neurofilaments in immunohistochemical tests. As a control, an antiserum against glial filament protein (GFAP) was used because antisera against GFAP stain only glial cells in immunohistochemical tests. They would, therefore, not be expected to react with PSDs that occur only in neurons. The results of these experiments suggested that PSDs contain both neuronal and also glial filament proteins at higher concentrations than either synaptic plasma membranes, myelin, or myelinated axons. However, immunoperoxidase staining of histological sections with the same two antisera gave contradictory results, indicating that PSDs in intact brain tissue contain neither neuronal or glial filament proteins. This suggested that the intermediate filament proteins present in isolated PSD preparations were contaminants. To test this possibility, the proteins of isolated brain intermediate filaments were labeled with 125I and added to brain tissue at the start of a subcellular fractionation schedule. The results of this experiment confirmed that both neuronal and glial filament proteins stick selectively to PSDs during the isolation procedure. The stickiness of PSDs for brain cytoplasmic proteins indicates that biochemical analysis of subcellular fractions is insufficient to establish a given protein as a synaptic junctional component. An immunohistochemical localization of PSDs in intact tissue, which has now been achieved for tubulin, phosphoprotein I, and calmodulin, appears to be an essential accessory item of evidence. Our findings also corroborate recent evidence which suggests that isolated preparations of brain intermediate filaments contain both neuronal and glial filaments.

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