Plasma-membrane as well as smooth-, rough- and degranulated-endoplasmic-reticulum-membrane fractions were isolated from the microsomal pellet of rat liver. The purity of these fractions, as determined by marker-enzyme activities, electron microscopy, cholesterol content and RNA content, was found to be adequate for a comparative structural study. Major differences in lipid and protein composition were found to exist between the plasma membrane and the endoplasmic reticulum, but not between the smooth and the rough fractions of the endoplasmic reticulum. Differences in the location of membrane protein thiol groups and the mobility of the membrane phospholipids were observed between the plasma membranes and the endoplasmic reticulum, and these could be explained by differences in protein and lipid composition. However, by employing fluorescence and spin-labelling techniques structural changes were also observed between the smooth and the rough endoplasmic-reticulum fractions. These results suggest that the structural heterogeneity existing between the two latter membrane fractions occurs near or on their membrane surfaces and is not due to the greater number of ribosomes bound to the rough endoplasmic-reticulum fraction.

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