We have previously shown that in confluent human fibroblast cultures chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan is a component of the fibronectin-containing pericellular matrix fibers. In the present work the distribution of chondroitin sulfate was studied in subconfluent cell cultures using antibodies that bind to a chemically defined carbohydrate fragment of chondroitinase ABC-modified chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan. Using immunofluorescence microscopy, we observed, in addition to the fibrillar matrix staining, chondroitin sulfate diffusely distributed at the cell surface. In indirect immunoferritin electron microscopy this staining corresponded to patchy binding of ferritin close (24 nm) to the outer aspect of the plasma membrane. The patchy organization appeared uniform in all cell surfaces. The cell surface chondroitin sulfate could not be removed from the plasma membrane by agents that dissociate electrostatic interactions. These data show that in fibroblasts chondroitin sulfate is a component of the outer aspect of the plasma membrane, and raise the possibility of an integral plasma membrane chondroitin sulfate proteoglycan.

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