The ultrastructure of epimastigotes of Trypanosoma cruzi, obtained from acellular cultures, and bloodstream trypomastigotes, isolated from infected mice, were studied by thin-sectioning and freeze-fracturing techniques. Epimastigotes showed a thin (5 nm) surface coat when stained with ruthenium red, while the surface coat of trypomastigotes was more prominent (15 nm thick). Both P and E faces of the plasma membrane of T. cruzi had roughly the same number of intramembranous particles (IMP) as seen by freeze-fracture. The plasma membrane of bloodstream trypomastigotes had less IMP than epimastigotes. Several differentiations of the plasma membrane was observed. In epimastigotes a cytostome appears as a particle-poor region delimited by a pallisade-like row of adjacent IMP. Bloodstream trypomastigotes did not have a cytostome. Instead, abundant pinocytic vesicles were observed. At the base of the flagellum of epimastigotes a ciliary necklace was found. At this region, the surface coat was differentiated as long, hair-like projections after staining with ruthenium red. The flagellar membrane had less IMP than the body membrane. Clusters of IMP were present on both faces of the flagellar membrane at the flagellar-body adhesion zone of epimastigotes. Linear arrays of IMP were also seen. In bloostream trypomastigotes clusters of particles were observed both on the flagellar and cell body membranes. Our observations demonstrate the presence of considerable structural variations of the T. cruzi plasma membrane at the two stages of the life cycle studied.

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