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J Cell Biol. Jan 1, 1967; 32(1): 27–53.
PMCID: PMC2107095

ELECTRON MICROSCOPE OBSERVATIONS ON THE CARBOHYDRATE-RICH CELL COAT PRESENT AT THE SURFACE OF CELLS IN THE RAT

Abstract

Periodic acid-silver methenamine, a fairly specific technique for glycoprotein detection, was used to stain a variety of rat tissues, in the hope of confirming the existence of a carbohydrate-rich "cell coat" at the surface of mammalian cells. It was found that nearly all cells are coated by a thin layer of stained material. Around fibrocytes and migrating blood cells, the layer is uniform and merges with the ground substance. In the nervous system, cells and processes are surrounded with a layer whose density increases in synaptic clefts. Around epithelial cells, the layer outlines apical microvilli, follows lateral interspaces, and extends between cells and basement membrane. The layer is continuous with the middle plate of desmosomes and can be followed within the wide portion of terminal bars. In contrast, staining usually vanishes when two adjacent plasma membranes fuse to form tight junctions. These findings indicate that the stained layer is a "cell coat" located outside the plasma membrane. Since the cell coat is also stained by colloidal thorium, a technique for detection of acidic carbohydrates, this structure presumably contains not only glycoprotein(s) but also acidic residues. The carbohydrates may play a role in holding cells together and in controlling the interactions between cells and environment.

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