The substructure and distribution of luminal material in microtubules of olfactory axons were studied in the bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana. By using numerous fixation methods, with and without osmium tetroxide, the luminal component was shown not to be an artifact of fixation. The material consists of globular elements 4-5 nm in diameter loosely arranged within the lumen in a discontinuous column. Counts of microtubules showing luminal material were obtained for axons in the proximal and distal ends of the olfactory nerve, and it was found that 16-18% more of the microtubules in the distal regions showed the luminal component. This raises the possibility that the material might be translocated within the microtubule lumen and tends to accumulate as it moves distally toward the axon terminal. In contrast to those of the olfactory axons, microtubules assembled in vitro from frog brain tubulin did not show luminal material. When microtubules in olfactory axons were depolymerized in situ by cold and calcium treatment and then induced to reassemble, most of those that were formed de novo showed empty lumina. Such evidence suggests that the luminal material is not an integral component of the microtubule. The hypothesis is discussed that material may be translocated within the lumina of microtubules. Furthermore, in the case of neuronal microtubules, the possibility is raised that they may serve as conduits for their own wall subunits.

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