The role of specialized regions of insect rectal papillae in the regulation of water and ion uptake is well documented. Although the apparatus for active uptake of water or ions is located in various cell membranes, the absorbed molecules must first pass through the cuticle which lines the rectal epithelium. Most cuticle (e.g. abdominal) has been shown to be permeable only to molecules soluble in wax, and to be impermeable to water and ions. Obviously if such cuticle lined the rectum, absorption of water and ions would be severely restricted. The present freeze-fracture and lanthanum tracer study was undertaken to investigate in more detail both the morphological features of the rectal papillae cuticle which could be responsible for its anomalous permeability and the various cell membranes involved in this transport. It has been suggested from permeability studies that the anomalous permeability of rectal papillae cuticle could be due to the lack of a complete wax layer over the surface of the rectal cuticle. The present study strongly supports this suggestion. Thus, the freeze-fracture micrographs have shown that a surface layer of the cuticle reacts during fracturing like a lipid bilayer. However, in rectal papilla cuticle this surface bilayer is interrupted at each epicuticular depression by areas of different fracturing behaviour. These discontinuities in the surface bilayer probably allow the rectal contents to contact directly the true cuticular matrix. They could, therefore, explain the case with which water and ions penetrate the rectal cuticle and so gain access to the underlying epithelial cells. Although similar discontinuities are present on some of the rectal cuticle surface external to the rectal papillae, they appear to be filled in by plugs of lipid-like material. The lateral plasma membranes of the rectal papillae cells are generally considered to be the main site of active transport. The present lanthanum tracer and freeze-fracture study has shown that the lateral plasma membranes contain 3 distinct differentiations. Septate junctions are present at the apical and basal surfaces of the epithelial layer; a further membrane differentiation is found adjacent to the septate junctions; and thirdly, an array of short, variable length, non-anastomosing linear structures covers most of the lateral plasma membrane surface. These latter structures, unlike known types of cell junctions do not show equivalent arrays in apposing membranes even when the lateral plasma membranes of adjacent cells are closely apposed. The possible function of these structures is discussed.

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