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Tissue Cell. 1996 Jun;28(3):253-65.

Glycosomes--the organelles of glycogen metabolism.

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  • Department of Physiology, State University of New York, Buffalo 14214, USA. rybicka@acsu.buffalo.edu.


This article reviews the data concerning the electron microscopical interpretation of glycogen. It demonstrates that glycogen in the cell is associated with the enzymes involved in its metabolism and that the glycogen-protein complex forms morphologically distinct cell organelles called glycosomes. Glycogen can be visualized in the electron microscope (EM) by histochemical procedures, or by negative staining, but it does not react with heavy metals such as uranium and lead. The protein component of glycosomes, stainable by heavy metals, appears in EM as 20-30 nm granules. While biochemical findings have long indicated the association of glycogen and protein in the cell, morphological interpretation traditionally defined the protein component of glycosomes as particles of glycogen. Accordingly, the term alpha or beta particles, introduced to define particles of glycogen, became subsequently applied to the protein component visible in sections stained by heavy metals. The history of microscopic research reveals the conditions which led to such interpretation. Morphological analysis of the reaction of glycosomes to the acids shows that glycosomes deposited free in the cytosol (lyoglycosomes) are acid labile, whereas the others (desmoglycosomes), intimately associated with different cellular structures, are acid-resistant. These 2 groups correspond to lyo- and desmoglycogen distinguished in early biochemical studies on the basis of their different resistance to the cold trichloroacetic acid. The theory of glycosomes provides a new paradigm which clarifies numerous unexplained data in the microscopic literature on glycogen, and opens a vast field for the research on the cellular metabolism of glycogen, with the use of modern molecular and cellular biology techniques.

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