We studied the localization of desmin (skeletin), the major protein subunit of muscle-type intermediate filaments, in adult chicken cardiac muscle by high resolution immunoelectron microscopic labeling of ultrathin frozen sections of the intact fixed tissues. We carried out single labeling for desmin and double labeling for both desmin and either vinculin or alpha-actinin. In areas removed from the intercalated disk membranes, we observed desmin labeling between adjacent Z-bands in every interfibrillar space. Where these spaces were wide and contained mitochondria, convoluted strands of desmin labeling bridged between the periphery of neighboring Z-bands and the mitochondria. The intermediate filaments appeared to be organized in a more three-dimensional manner within the interfibrillar spaces of cardiac as compared to skeletal muscle. Near the intercalated disks, desmin labeling was intense within the interfibrillar spaces, but was completely segregated from the microfilament attachment sites (fascia adherens) where vinculin and alpha-actinin were localized. Desmin therefore appears to play no role in the attachment of microfilaments to the intercalated disk membrane. We discuss the role of intermediate filaments in the organization of cardiac and skeletal striated muscle in the light of these and other results.

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