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PLoS One. 2012;7(3):e32935. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032935. Epub 2012 Mar 12.

Electron tomography of fusiform vesicles and their organization in urothelial cells.

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Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Cell Biology, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia.


The formation of fusiform vesicles (FVs) is one of the most distinctive features in the urothelium of the urinary bladder. FVs represent compartments for intracellular transport of urothelial plaques, which modulate the surface area of the superficial urothelial (umbrella) cells during the distension-contraction cycle. We have analysed the three-dimensional (3D) structure of FVs and their organization in umbrella cells of mouse urinary bladders. Compared to chemical fixation, high pressure freezing gave a new insight into the ultrastructure of urothelial cells. Electron tomography on serial sections revealed that mature FVs had a shape of flattened discs, with a diameter of up to 1.2 µm. The lumen between the two opposing asymmetrically thickened membranes was very narrow, ranging from 5 nm to 10 nm. Freeze-fracturing and immunolabelling confirmed that FVs contain two opposing urothelial plaques connected by a hinge region that made an omega shaped curvature. In the central cytoplasm, 4-15 FVs were often organized into stacks. In the subapical cytoplasm, FVs were mainly organized as individual vesicles. Distension-contraction cycles did not affect the shape of mature FVs; however, their orientation changed from parallel in distended to perpendicular in contracted bladder with respect to the apical plasma membrane. In the intermediate cells, shorter and more dilated immature FVs were present. The salient outcome from this research is the first comprehensive, high resolution 3D view of the ultrastructure of FVs and how they are organized differently depending on their location in the cytoplasm of umbrella cells. The shape of mature FVs and their organization into tightly packed stacks makes them a perfect storage compartment, which transports large amounts of urothelial plaques while occupying a small volume of umbrella cell cytoplasm.

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