Proteoglycan monomers from pig laryngeal cartilage were examined by electron microscopy with benzyldimethylalkylammonium chloride as the spreading agent. The proteoglycans appeared as extended molecules with a beaded structure, representing the chondroitin sulphate chains collapsed around the protein core. Often a fine filamentous tail was present at one end. Substructures within proteoglycan molecules were localized by incubation with specific antibodies followed by Protein A-gold (diameter 4 nm). After the use of an anti-(binding region) serum the Protein A-gold (typically one to three particles) bound at the extreme end of the filamentous region. A small proportion of the labelled molecules (10-15%) showed the presence of gold particles at both ends. A monoclonal antibody specific for a keratan sulphate epitope (MZ15) localized a keratan sulphate-rich region at one end of the proteoglycan, but gold particles were not observed along the extended part of the protein core. This distribution was not changed by prior chondroitin AC lyase digestion of the proteoglycan. Localization with a different monoclonal antibody to keratan sulphate (5-D-4) caused a change in the spreading behaviour of a proportion (approx. 20%) of the proteoglycan monomers that lost their beaded structure and appeared with the chondroitin sulphate chains projecting from the protein core. In these molecules the Protein A-gold localized antibody (5-D-4) along the length of the protein core whereas in those molecules with a beaded appearance it labelled only at one end. Labelling with either of the monoclonal antibodies was specific, as it was inhibited by exogenously added keratan sulphate. The differential localization achieved may reflect structural differences within the proteoglycan population involving keratan sulphate and the protein core to which it is attached. The results showed that by this technique substructures within proteoglycan molecules can be identified by Protein A-gold labelling after the use of specific monoclonal or polyclonal antibodies.

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