Changes in the structural organization of membranes of mucous bodies and the plasma membrane that occur during mucus production in goblet cells of rat rectum have been studied by thin-section and freeze-fracture techniques. Immature mucous bodies are bounded by a trilaminar membrane and fracture faces of the membrane have randomly distributed intramembrane particles. During maturation, mucous bodies become packed tightly together and changes in the structure of their membranes include (1) fusion of apposing membranes of adjacent bodies to form a pentalaminar structure, (2) a reduction in the density of particles on membrane fracture faces, and (3) exclusion of particles from regions of membrane apposition. Some trilaminar membranes of mucous bodies fuse with the lumenal plasma membrane to form a pentalaminar structure. Sites of apposition between mucous body membranes and the lumenal plasma membrane are seen as particle-cleared bulges on fracture faces of the plasma membrane. Our results indicate that membrane reorganization associated with mucous production in goblet cells includes a reduction and redistribution of some membrane proteins and that membrane fusion occurs between portions of membranes from which proteins have been displaced.

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