In order to probe the organization of the contractile machinery in smooth muscle, we have studied the distribution of alpha-actinin, a protein present in high concentration in dense bodies, structures apparently analogous to the Z-disks of striated muscle. Localization of alpha-actinin in single isolated smooth muscle cells of the stomach muscularis of Bufo marinus was determined by analysis of the pattern of anti-alpha-actinin staining in single fluorescence photomicrographs, stereo pair micrographs, and computerized three-dimensional reconstructions from multiple image planes. The distribution of anti-alpha-actinin and antitubulin staining was compared in contracted and relaxed cells. The studies revealed that alpha-actinin is present in high concentrations in fusiform elements (mean axial ratio = 4.82) throughout the cytoplasm and in larger, more irregularly shaped plaques along the cell margins. Many of the fusiform-stained elements are organized into stringlike arrays characterized by a regular repeating pattern (mean center-to-center interspace = 2.2 +/- 0.1 micron). These linear arrays appear to terminate at the anti-alpha-actinin stained larger plaques along the cell margin; several of these strings often run in parallel with their elements in lateral register. While this general pattern of organization is maintained in cells during contraction, the distance between successive stained elements in stringlike arrays is decreased. We suggest that the decrease in the distance between elements in these strings results from shortening of materials that constitute these linear arrays. We do not believe that the shortening within these arrays reflects compression by forces generated elsewhere within the cell, as the reorganization of noncontractile microtubules is qualitatively different from the changes in the pattern of anti-alpha-actinin staining.

This content is only available as a PDF.