The classification of MAP 2 as a microtubule-associated protein is based on its affinity for microtubules in vitro and its filamentous distribution in cultured cells. We sought to determine whether MAP 2 is also able to bind in situ to organelles other than microtubules. For this purpose, primary cultures of rat brain cells were stained for immunofluorescence microscopy with a rabbit anti-MAP 2 antibody prepared in our laboratory, as well as with antibodies to vimentin, an intermediate filament protein, and to tubulin, the major subunit of microtubules. MAP 2 was present on cytoplasmic fibers in neurons and in a subpopulation of the flat cells present in the cultures. Our observations were concentrated on the flat cells because of their suitability for high-resolution immunofluorescence microscopy. Double antibody staining revealed co-localization of MAP 2 with both tubulin and vimentin in the flat cells. Pretreatment of the cultures with vinblastine resulted in the redistribution of MAP 2 into perinuclear cables that contained vimentin. Tubulin paracrystals were not stained by anti-MAP 2. In cells extracted with digitonin, the normal fibrillar distribution of MAP 2 was resistant to several treatments (PIPES buffer plus 10 mM Ca++, phosphate buffer at pH 7 or 9) that induced depolymerization of microtubules, but not intermediate filaments. Staining of the primary brain cells was not observed with preimmune serum nor with immune serum adsorbed prior to use with pure MAP 2. We detected MAP 2 on intermediate filaments not only with anti-MAP 2 serum, but also with affinity purified anti-MAP 2 and with a monoclonal anti-MAP 2 prepared in another laboratory. We conclude from these experiments that material recognized by anti-MAP 2 antibodies associates with both microtubules and intermediate filaments. We propose that one function of MAP 2 is to cross-link the two types of cellular filaments.

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