We have re-examined the involvement of microtubules in the process of pigment granule transport in squirrelfish erythrophores in situ (i.e. on scales). Light-microscopic studies revealed that following exposure to 5 microM-nocodazole for 1 h at 4 degrees C erythrophores retained an ability to aggregate and disperse their pigment uniformly, though at reduced rates. Serial thick-section stereo high-voltage electron-microscopic studies showed that the entire microtubule population was removed by drug treatment and that the microtubules were not reassembled as a result of pigment translocation processes in the presence of reduced levels of nocodazole (0.4 microM). Immunofluorescence microscopic studies confirmed that nocodazole (0.5-1 microM) produced rapid disassembly of the microtubules. Whole-mount electron-microscopic studies showed that the pigment granules were suspended in a cross-linking network of 3–10 nm filaments, which appeared to support ordered pigment transport in situ in the absence of microtubules. Drug inhibition studies showed that micromolar levels of estramustine, a novel anti-MAPs (microtubule-associated proteins) drug, reversibly inhibited pigment transport. The results suggest that an estramustine-sensitive cytomatrix component might produce polarized pigment transport in intact erythrophores.

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