The cellular enamel organ and the cell-free organic matrix of developing enamel of female rats injected intravascularly with [3H]serine and [3H]proline were extracted in a number of solvents and examined by sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis and h.p.l.c. in 6M-guanidinium chloride at intervals varying from 5 min to 1 week after injection. Three major species soluble in NH4HCO3 with Mr values of approx. 100 000, 25 000 and 11 000 were identified in the cellular enamel organ. The Mr 100 000 and 11 000 components were not secreted but remained intracellular for periods of up to 1 week after injection of the radioactively labelled amino acids. In contrast, the Mr 25 000 species was secreted from the cells and was first detected in the extracellular organic matrix approx. 15-30 min after injection. With time, labelled components, first of Mr approx. 11 000 and subsequently approx. 6500, were detected in the organic matrix concomitant with a relative decrease in the Mr 25 000 component, demonstrating that the lower Mr species were derived from degradation of the putative extracellular precursor protein (Mr 25 000). All of the extracellular components were found to contain O-phosphoserine. No radioactively labelled component with an Mr greater than approx. 25 000, either an amelogenin or an enamelin, was observed in the extracellular organic matrix or in an intracellular component which subsequently was lost from the intracellular pool. The Mr of the highest Mr protein or class of proteins is calculated to be approx. 22 000-26 000 when standard proteins are used as markers, but only 15 000-18 000 when using the CNBr peptides of alpha 1 chains of rat tail tendon collagen as markers.

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