Electron tomography of frozen-hydrated isolated triad junctions

Biophys J. 2002 Nov;83(5):2491-501. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(02)75260-0.


Cryoelectron microscopy and tomography have been applied for the first time to isolated, frozen-hydrated skeletal muscle triad junctions (triads) and terminal cisternae (TC) vesicles derived from sarcoplasmic reticulum. Isolated triads were selected on the basis of their appearance as two spherical TC vesicles attached to opposite sides of a flattened vesicle derived from a transverse tubule (TT). Foot structures (ryanodine receptors) were resolved within the gap between the TC vesicles and TT vesicles, and some residual ordering of the receptors into arrays was apparent. Organized dense layers, apparently containing the calcium-binding protein calsequestrin, were found in the lumen of TC vesicles underlying the foot structures. The lamellar regions did not directly contact the sarcoplasmic reticulum membrane, thereby creating an approximately 5-nm-thick zone that potentially constitutes a subcompartment for achieving locally elevated [Ca(2+) ] in the immediate vicinity of the Ca(2+)-conducting ryanodine receptors. The lumen of the TT vesicles contained globular mass densities of unknown origin, some of which form cross-bridges that may be responsible for the flattened appearance of the transverse tubules when viewed in cross-section. The spatial relationships among the TT membrane, ryanodine receptors, and calsequestrin-containing assemblage are revealed under conditions that do not use dehydration, heavy-metal staining, or chemical fixation, thus exemplifying the potential of cryoelectron microscopy and tomography to reveal structural detail of complex subcellular structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calmodulin / chemistry
  • Calsequestrin / chemistry*
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy / methods*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / ultrastructure
  • Ryanodine Receptor Calcium Release Channel / metabolism
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum / ultrastructure
  • Tomography


  • Calmodulin
  • Calsequestrin
  • Ryanodine Receptor Calcium Release Channel
  • Calcium