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J Neurocytol. 1990 Apr;19(2):187-99.

Radial component of CNS myelin: junctional subunit structure and supramolecular assembly.

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  • 1Neurology Research, Children's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115.


The radial component is a structural specialization within CNS myelin that is believed to stabilize the apposition of membranes in the internode. Previous observations on thin sections and freeze-fracture replicas show that this junctional complex consists of linear, particulate strands that run parallel to the nerve fibre axis and radially through the myelin sheath, but details on its molecular organization are lacking. The objective of our current study was to gain further insight into its arrangement and composition by examining its fine-structure and incidence in: myelin with known deficits in protein composition (e.g., shiverer, transgenic shiverer, myelin deficient and jimpy mutant mice); isolated CNS myelin, which has been shown by X-ray diffraction to be more stable than intact CNS myelin; and human white matter, in which this junctional complex has not yet been described. Our results confirm the localization and general appearance of the radial component as previously reported. In addition, we found that: (1) the radial component occurs abundantly in human CNS myelin where it has a complex subunit structure; (2) the constituent junctional unit of this structure is organized as a pair of globular domains (each approximately 40 A diameter) at the extracellular apposition which is linked by approximately 15 A diameter filaments extending through the bilayer to approximately 25 A globular domains in the adjacent cytoplasmic apposition; (3) the radial component is present with apparently normal structure in the sparse, compact myelin of murine mutants containing either different amounts of MBP or no PLP which indicates that neither of these proteins is necessary for junctional integrity; (4) the radial component is present in purified CNS myelin membranes which may account for the stability of these membranes; and (5) the radial component is structurally resistant to Triton, which suggests a method for its further biochemical characterization. Finally, from an analysis of images from tilted transverse and longitudinal sections, we have reconstructed a model of its three-dimensional, supramolecular organization.

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