Monolayers of baby-hamster kidney cells were grown on glass in tissue culture and harvested with trypsin or EDTA in order to investigate the cell surface macromolecules removed by these cell-disaggregating agents. The release of nucleic acids from the cells during the harvesting procedure was monitored by labelling the cellular RNA with [5-3H]uridine and the cellular DNA with [2-14C]thymidine. Treatment of the cells with EDTA was found to cause an increase in the permeability of the plasma membrane with 7.6% of the cellular RNA, but less than 1% of the cellular DNA, being released. Moreover, 61% of the cells harvested with EDTA were permeable to Trypan Blue. With crude trypsin, lysis of the cell occurred with the release of similar amounts of RNA and DNA amounting to about 11% of the total cellular nucleic acid. In contrast, crystalline trypsin released only 1% of the cellular nucleic acids. Since virtually all the cells (99%) after harvesting in crystalline trypsin were impermeable to Trypan Blue, this method was suitable for obtaining cell surface macromolecules without contamination by intracellular damage. [1-14C]Glucosamine was incorporated by the cells only into bound hexosamines and sialic acids. [By monitoring the release of radioactivity in high-molecular-weight material in such experiments a measure of the release of macromolecules containing amino sugars was obtained.] Of the total macromolecules containing amino sugars in the cells 33%, 24% and 13% were released when the cells were harvested with crude trypsin, crystalline trypsin or EDTA respectively. Crystalline trypsin also released 39% of the total sialic acid of the cell, whereas less than 1% of the cellular sialic acid was present in the EDTA-treated fraction. It is concluded that the macromolecules containing amino sugars released with crude trypsin and EDTA are likely to be heavily contaminated with intracellular material. However, the macromolecules released by crystalline trypsin appear to come from the cell surface.

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