Two ultrastructural approaches were used in photoreceptor cells of the leech, Hirudo medicinalis, to (a) investigate the intracellular topography of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER) and (b) identify among the various subregions of the SER those which might function as Ca-sequestering sites. When the cells are prefixed with CaCl2-containing glutaraldehyde and postfixed with osmium tetroxide-ferricyanide (OsFeCN), only a part of the total SER is specifically stained. The stained SER cisternae include the submicrovillar cisternae (SMC), subsurface cisternae (SSC), the nuclear envelope, Golgi-associated SER, paracrystalline SER, and SER associated with glycogen areas. An extensive tubular SER cisternal system always remains unstained. When the cells are permeabilized by saponin and subsequently incubated with Ca2+, MgATP, and oxalate, the SMC (Walz, 1979, Eur. J. Cell Biol. 20:83-91), the SSC and the nuclear envelope contain electron-opaque Ca-oxalate precipitates indicating their ability to function as an effective Ca2+ sink. The results show that the very elaborate SER in this photoreceptor cell includes many functionally heterogeneous subregions. Of special physiological significance are those components (SMC and SSC) which are effective in Ca2+-buffering in the immediate vicinity of the plasma membrane.

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