Epithelial cells of the small intestine, like those of other internal organs, contain intermediate-sized filaments immunologically related to epidermal prekeratin which are especially concentrated in the cell apex. Brush-order fractions were isolated from rat small intestine, and apical tonofilaments attached to desmosomal plaques and terminal web residues were prepared therefrom by extraction in high salt (1.5 M KCl) buffer and Triton X-100. The structure of these filaments was indistinguishable from that of epidermal tonofilaments and, as with epidermal prekeratin, filaments could be reconstituted from solubilized, denatured intestinal tonofilament protein. On SDS polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of proteins of the extracted desmosome-tonofilament fractions, a number of typical brush-border proteins were absent or reduced, and enrichment of three major polypeptides of Mr 55,000, 48,000, and 40,000 was noted. On two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, the three enriched major polypeptides usually appeared as pairs of isoelectric variants, and the two smaller components (Mr 48,000, and 40,000) were relatively acidic (isoelectric pH values of 5.40 and below), compared to the Mr 55,000 protein which focused at pH values higher than 6.4. The tonofilament proteins were shown to be immunologically related to epidermal prekeratin by immunoreplica and blotting techniques using antibodies to bovine epidermal prekeratins. Similar major polypeptides were found in desmosome-attached tonofilaments from small intestine of mouse and cow. However, comparisons with epidermal tissues of cow and rat showed that all major polypeptides of intestinal tonofilaments were different from the major prekeratin polypeptides of epidermal tonofilaments. The results present the first analysis of a defined fraction of tonofilaments from a nonepidermal cell. The data indicate that structurally identical tonofilaments can be formed, in different types of cells, by different polypeptides of the cytokeratin family of proteins and that tonofilaments of various epithelia display tissue-specific patterns of their protein subunits.

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