Whale skeletal muscle myoglobin (mol wt 17,800; molecular dimensions 25 x 34 x 42 Å) was used as a probe molecule for the pore systems of muscle capillaries. Diaphragms of Wistar-Furth rats were fixed in situ at intervals up to 4 h after the intravenous injection of the tracer, and myoglobin was localized in the tissue by a peroxidase reaction. Gel filtration of plasma samples proved that myoglobin molecules remained in circulation in native monomeric form. At 30–35 s postinjection, the tracer marked ∼75% of the plasmalemmal vesicles on the blood front of the endothelium, 15% of those located inside and none of those on the tissue front. At 45 s, the labeling of vesicles in the inner group reached 60% but remained nil for those on the tissue front. Marked vesicles appeared on the latter past 45 s and their frequency increased to ∼80% by 60–75 s, concomitantly with the appearance of myoglobin in the pericapillary spaces. Significant regional heterogeneity in initial labeling was found in the different segments of the endothelium (i.e., perinuclear cytoplasm, organelle region, cell periphery, and parajunctional zone). Up to 60 s, the intercellular junctions and spaces of the endothelium were free of myoglobin reaction product; thereafter, the latter was detected in the distal part of the intercellular spaces in concentration generally equal to or lower than that prevailing in the adjacent pericapillary space. The findings indicate that myoglobin molecules cross the endothelium of muscle capillaries primarily via plasmalemmal vesicles. Since a molecule of this size is supposed to exit through both pore systems, our results confirm the earlier conclusion that the plasmalemmal vesicles represent the large pore system; in addition, they suggest that the same structures are, at least in part, the structural equivalent of the small pore system of this type of capillaries.

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