The ordered structure of the leading edge (lamellipodium) of cultured fibroblasts is readily revealed in cells extracted briefly in Triton X-100-glutaraldehyde mixtures, fixed further in glutaraldehyde, and then negatively stained for electron microscopy. By this procedure, the leading edge regions show a highly organised, three-dimensional network of actin filaments together with variable numbers of radiating actin filament bundles or microspikes. The use of Phalloidin after glutaraldehyde fixation resulted in a marginal improvement in filament order. Processing of the cytoskeletons though the additional steps generally employed for conventional electron microscopy resulted in a marked deterioration or complete disruption of the order of the actin filament networks. In contrast, the actin filaments of the stress fiber bundles were essentially unaffected. Thus, postfixation in osmium tetroxide (1% for 7 min at room temperature) transformed the networks to a reticulum of kinked fibers, resembling those produced by the exposure of muscle F-actin to OsO4 in vitro (P. Maupin-Szamier and T. D. Pollard. 1978. J. Cell Biol. 77:837--852). While limited exposure to OsO4 (0.2+ for 20 min at 0 degrees C) obviated this destruction, dehydration in acetone or ethanol, with or without post-osmication, caused a further and unavoidable disordering and aggregation of the meshwork filaments. The meshwork regions of the leading edge then showed a striking resemblance to the networks hitherto described in critical point-dried preparations of cultured cells. I conclude that much of the "microtrabecular lattice" described by Wolosewick and Porter (1979. J. Cell Biol. 82:114--139) in the latter preparations constitutes actin meshworks and actin filament arrays, with their associated components, that have been distorted and aggregated by the preparative procedures employed.

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