An analysis was made of the protein composition of a fraction of postsynaptic densities (PSDs) prepared from rat brain. Protein makes up 90% of the material in the PSD fraction. Two major polypeptide fractions are present, based on sodium dodecyl sulfate polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The major polypeptide fraction has a molecular weight of 53,000, makes up about 45% of the PSD protein, and comigrates on gels with a major polypeptide of the synaptic plasma membrane. The other polypeptide band has a molecular weight of 97,000, accounts for 17% of the PSD protein, and is not a prominent constituent of other fractions. Six other polypeptides of higher molecular weight (100,000–180,000) are consistently present in small amounts (3–9% each). The PSD fraction contains slightly greater amounts of polar amino acids and proline than the synaptic plasma membrane fraction, but no amino acid is usually prominent. The PSD apparently consists of a structural matrix formed primarily by a single polypeptide or class of polypeptides of 53,000 molecular weight. Small amounts of other specialized proteins are contained within this matrix.
Most synapses in the central nervous system exhibit a prominent electron-opaque specialization of the postsynaptic plasma membrane called the postsynaptic density (PSD). We have developed a procedure for the isolation of PSDs which is based on their buoyant density and their insolubility in N -lauroyl sarcosinate. Treatment of synaptic membranes with this detergent solubilizes most plasma membranes and detaches PSDs from the plasma membrane so that they can be purified on a density gradient. Isolated PSDs appear structurally intact and exhibit those properties which characterize them in tissue. The isolated PSDs are of the size, shape, and electron opacity of those seen in tissue; they stain with both ethanolic phosphotungstic acid and bismuth iodide-uranyl lead and the fraction contains cyclic 3',5'-phosphodiesterase activity. Quantitative electron microscope analysis of the PSD fraction gives an estimated purity of better than 85%. Inasmuch as the PSD is associated primarily with dendritic excitatory synapses, our PSD fraction represents the distinctive plasma membrane specialization of this specific synaptic type in isolation.