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Tissue Cell. 1983;15(5):781-803.

Isolation of separate apical, lateral and basal plasma membrane from cells of an insect epithelium. A procedure based on tissue organization and ultrastructure.


The tissue used in this study was the midgut of the tobacco hornworm larva, Manduca sexta. The midgut epithelium is a single layer of cells resting on a thin basal lamina and underlying discontinuous muscle layer. The epithelial cells are of two main types, goblet and columnar cells, joined together by the septate junctions characteristic of insect epithelia. From this tissue we were able to isolate four distinct plasma membrane fractions; the lateral membranes, the columnar cell apical membrane, the goblet cell apical membrane and a preparation of basal membranes from both cell types. The lateral membranes were isolated by density gradient centrifugation following gentle homogenization of the midgut hypotonic medium, which caused the cells to rupture at their apical and basal surfaces, releasing long segments of lateral membranes still joined by their septate junctions. For isolation of apical and basal membranes the tissue was disrupted by ultrasound, based on the light microscopic observation that carefully controlled ultrasound can be used to disrupt each cell in layers starting at the apical surface. The top layer contained the columnar cell apical membrane, which consists of microvilli forming a brush border covering the lumenal surface of the epithelium. The second layer contained the goblet cell apical membrane, which is invaginated to form a cavity occupying the apical half of the cell, and the third layer contained the basal membranes. As each layer was stripped off the epithelium it was collected and the plasma membrane purified by differential or density gradient centrifugation. For all four membrane fractions, the isolation procedure was designed to preserve the original structure of the membrane as far as possible. This allowed electron microscopy to be used to follow each step in the isolation procedure, and to identify the constituents of each subcellular preparation. Although developed specifically for M. sexta midgut, these techniques could readily be modified for use on other epithelia.

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