The elaborate cross-connections among membranous organelles (MO), microtubules (MT), and neurofilaments (NF) were demonstrated in unifixed axons by the quick-freeze, deep-etch, and rotary-shadowing method. They were categorized into three groups: NF-associated cross-linker, MT-associated cross-bridges, and long cross-links in the subaxolemmal space. Other methods were also employed to make sure that the observed cross-connections in the unfixed axons were not a result of artifactual condensation or precipitation of soluble components or salt during deep-etching. Axolemma were permeablized either chemically (0.1% saponin) or physically (gentle homogenization), to allow egress of their soluble components from the axon; or else the axons were washed with distilled water after fixation. After physical rupture of the axolemma or saponin treatment, most of the MO remained intact. MT were stabilized by adding taxol in the incubation medium.
Axons prepared by these methods contained many longitudinally oriented NF connected to each other by numerous fine cross-linkers (4-6 nm in diameter, 20-50 nm in length). Two specialized regions were apparent within the axons: one composed of fascicles of MT linked with each other by fine cross-bridges; the other was in the subaxolemmal space and consisted of actinlike filaments and a network of long cross-links (50-150 nm) which connected axolemma and actinlike filaments with NF and MT. F-actin was localized to the subaxolemmal space by the nitrobenzooxadiazol phallacidin method. MO were located mainly in these two specialized regions and were intimately associated with MT via fine short (10-20 nm in length) cross-bridges. Cross-links from NF to MO and MT were also common. All these cross-connections were observed after chemical extraction or physical rupture of the axon; however, these procedures removed granular materials which were attached to the filaments in the fresh unextracted axons. The cross-connections were also found in the axons washed with distilled water after fixation. I conclude that the cross- connections are real structures while the granular material is composed of soluble material, probably protein in nature.