A rat liver plasma membrane preparation was isolated and characterized both biochemically and morphologically. The isolation procedure was rapid, simple and effective in producing a membrane fraction with the following biochemical characteristics: approximately 40-fold enrichment in three plasma membrane markers, 5'-nucleotidase, alkaline phosphodiesterase I (both putative bile canalicular membrane enzymes), and the asialo-glycoprotein (ASGP) receptor (a membrane glycoprotein present along the sinusoidal front of hepatocytes); a yield of each of these plasma membrane markers that averaged approximately 16%; and minimal contamination by lysosomes, nuclei, and mitochondria, but persistent contamination by elements of the endoplasmic reticulum. Morphological analysis of the preparation revealed that all three major domains of the hepatocyte plasma membrane (sinusoidal, lateral, and bile canalicular) were present in substantial amounts. The identification of sinusoidal membrane was further confirmed when ASGP binding sites were localized predominantly to this membrane in the isolated PM using electron microscope autoradiography. By morphometry, the sinusoidal front membrane accounted for 47% of the total membrane in the preparation, whereas the lateral surface and bile canalicular membrane accounted for 6.8% and 23% respectively. This is the first report of such a large fraction of sinusoidal membrane in a liver plasma membrane preparation.

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