Three-dimensional cytoskeletal organization of detergent-treated epithelial African green monkey kidney cells (BSC-1) and chick embryo fibroblasts was studied in whole-mount preparations visualized in a high voltage electron microscope. Stereo images are generated at both low and high magnification to reveal both overall cytoskeletal morphology and details of the structural continuity of different filament types. By the use of an improved extraction procedure in combination with heavy meromyosin subfragment 1 decoration of actin filaments, several new features of filament organization are revealed that suggest that the cytoskeleton is a highly interconnected structural unit.

In addition to actin filaments, intermediate filaments, and microtubules, a new class of filaments of 2- to 3-nm diameter and 30- to 300-nm length that do not bind heavy merymyosin is demonstrated. They form end-to-side contacts with other cytoskeletal filaments, thereby acting as linkers between various fibers, both like (e.g., actin- actin) and unlike (e.g., actin-intermediate filament, intermediate filament-microtubule). Their nature is unknown. In addition to 2- to 3-nm filaments, actin filaments are demonstrated to form end-to-side contacts with other filaments. Y-shaped actin filament "branches" are observed both in the cell periphery close to ruffles and in more central cell areas also populated by abundant intermediate filaments and microtubules. Arrowhead complexes formed by subfragment 1 decoration of actin filaments point towards the contact site. Actin filaments also form end-to-side contacts with microtubules and intermediate filaments. Careful inspection of numerous actin-microtubule contacts shows that microtubules frequently change their course at sites of contact. A variety of experimentally induced modifications of the frequency of actin-microtubule contacts can be shown to influence the course of microtubules. We conclude that bends in microtubules are imposed by structural interactions with other cytoskeletal elements.

A structural and biochemical comparison of whole cells and cytoskeletons demonstrates that the former show a more inticate three-dimensional network and a more complex biochemical composition than the latter. An analysis of the time course of detergent extraction strongly suggests that the cytoskeleton forms a structural backbone with which a large number of proteins of the cytoplasmic ground substance associate in an ordered fashion to form the characteristic image of the "microtrabecular network" (J.J. Wolosewick and K.R. Porter. 1979. J. Cell Biol. 82: 114-139).

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