Using sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide gels to analyse detergent-insoluble residues, and indirect immunofluorescence, we have found that the major protein of intermediate filaments in cultures and freshly explanted fragments of chick embryonic retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is vimentin. Moreover, these cells also fail to stain with antibodies against cytokeratins and most components of true desmosomes (maculae adhaerentes). Staining with anti-vinculin antibody suggests that the principal intercellular junction is the zonula adherens. Thus although RPE is an epithelium according to all other criteria, it belongs to a group of tissues (including vascular endothelium, iris and lens-forming epithelium) that have intermediate filaments composed of vimentin and possess neither cytokeratins nor desmosomes. That a tissue can be fully epithelial by other criteria, whilst lacking these components, is in agreement with other work, which has shown a lack of effect of micro-injection of antibodies to cytokeratin, and of the suppression of desmosome formation, on epithelial organization in culture. Although our observations were made solely on chick embryonic tissue, we suggest that published ultrastructural studies are consistent with the possibility that RPE of other species, including human, may lack true desmosomes.

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