The three-dimensional structure of the vertebrate skeletal muscle Z band reflects its function as the muscle component essential for tension transmission between successive sarcomeres. We have investigated this structure as well as that of the nearby I band in a normal, unstimulated mammalian skeletal muscle by tomographic three-dimensional reconstruction from electron micrograph tilt series of sectioned tissue. The three-dimensional Z band structure consists of interdigitating axial filaments from opposite sarcomeres connected every 18 +/- 12 nm (mean +/- SD) to one to four cross-connecting Z-filaments are observed to meet the axial filaments in a fourfold symmetric arrangement. The substantial variation in the spacing between cross-connecting Z-filament to axial filament connection points suggests that the structure of the Z band is not determined solely by the arrangement of alpha-actinin to actin-binding sites along the axial filament. The cross-connecting filaments bind to or form a "relaxed interconnecting body" halfway between the axial filaments. This filamentous body is parallel to the Z band axial filaments and is observed to play an essential role in generating the small square lattice pattern seen in electron micrographs of unstimulated muscle cross sections. This structure is absent in cross section of the Z band from muscles fixed in rigor or in tetanus, suggesting that the Z band lattice must undergo dynamic rearrangement concomitant with crossbridge binding in the A band.
Filtered images of mammalian cardiac Z bands were reconstructed from optical diffraction patterns from electron micrographs. Reconstructed images from longitudinal sections show connecting filaments at each 38-nm axial repeat in an array consistent with cross-sectional data. Some reconstructed images from cross sections indicate two distinctly different optical diffraction patterns, one for each of two lattice forms (basket weave and small square). Other images are more complex and exhibit composite diffraction patterns. Thus, the two lattice forms co-exist, interconvert, or represent two different aspects of the same details within the lattice. Two three-dimensional models of the Z lattice are presented. Both include the following features: a double array of axial filaments spaced at 24 nm, successive layers of tetragonally arrayed connecting filaments, projected fourfold symmetry in cross section, and layers of connecting filaments spaced at intervals of 38 nm along the myofibril axis. Projected views of the models are compared to electron micrographs and optically reconstructed images of the Z lattice in successively thicker cross sections. The entire Z band is rarely a uniform lattice regardless of plane of section or section thickness. Optical reconstructions strongly suggest two types of variation in the lattice substructure: (a) in the arrangement of connecting filaments, and (b) in the arrangement of units added side-to-side to make larger myofilament bundles and/or end-to-end to make wider Z bands. We conclude that the regular arrangement of axial and connecting filaments generates a dynamic Z lattice.
Optical diffraction patterns from electron micrographs of both longitudinal and cross sections of normal and anomalous canine cardiac Z bands have been compared. The data indicate that anomalous cardiac Z bands resembling nemaline rods are structurally related to Z bands in showing a repeating lattice common to both. In thin sections transverse to the myofibril axis, both electron micrographs and optical diffraction patterns of the Z structure reveal a square lattice of 24 nm. This lattice is simple at the edge of each I band and centered in the interior of the Z band, where two distinct lattice forms have been observed. In longitudinal sections, oblique filaments visible in the electron micrographs correspond to a 38-nm axial periodicity in diffraction patterns of both Z band and Z rod. We conclude that the Z rods will be useful for further analysis and reconstruction of the Z lattice by optical diffraction techniques.