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Traffic. 2010 Jan;11(1):138-50. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0854.2009.01008.x.

Spiral coating of the endothelial caveolar membranes as revealed by electron tomography and template matching.

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Department of Biomolecular Imaging, Institute of Biomembranes, Utrecht University, Padualaan 8, 3584 CH Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Caveolae are invaginations of the plasma membrane involved in multiple cellular processes, including transcytosis. In this paper we present an extensive 3-D electron tomographic study of the endothelial caveolar system in situ. Analysis of large cellular volumes of (high-pressure frozen, freeze-substituted and epon-embedded) human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) provided a notable view on the architecture of the caveolar system that comprises--as confirmed by 3-D immunolabeling for caveolin of 'intact' cells--bona fide caveolae, free plasmalemmal vesicles, racemose invaginations and free multi-caveolar bodies. Application of template matching to tomograms allowed the 3-D localization of caveolar membrane coatings in a robust manner. In this way we observed that bona fide endothelial caveolae, cryofixed and embedded in their cellular context, show a spiral organization of the coating as shown in the past for chemically fixed and freeze-etched caveolae from fibroblasts. Meticulous 3-D analysis further revealed that the coatings are distributed in triads of spirals over the caveolar bulb and neck. Remarkably, this coating distribution is consistently present over the membranes of the other members of the caveolar system in HUVECs. The novel observations that we present clarify the ultrastructural complexity of the 'intact' caveolar system, setting a detailed morphological basis for its functional diversity.

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