Three-dimensional ultrastructures of basement membranes of the rat kidney were investigated with an ultrahigh resolution scanning electron microscope (HSEM) equipped with a resolving power of 0.5 nm. All cellular components were extracted from renal cortical tissues by sequential-detergent treatment. Four types of acellular basement membranes were observed after tannin-osmium conductive staining: the glomerular basement membrane (GBM) associated with the mesangial matrix, the tubular basement membrane (TBM), the Bowman's capsule basement membrane (BCBM), and the peritubular capillary basement membrane (PTCBM). We could demonstrate the polygonal meshwork structures composed of strands in the respective basement membranes. The strands averaged 6 to 7 nm wide, whereas the pore sizes within the meshworks were variable and differed according to the basement membrane type. Moreover, we confirmed the presence of the heterogeneity of the GBM suggested by several approaches. Present data support the proposition that a polygonal meshwork structure may represent the basic structure of basement membrane. Some of the observed architectural dissimilarities in basement membrane types may reflect their different functional properties, which in turn may reflect the heterogeneous distribution of major basement membrane components as demonstrated by immunohistochemical and biochemical studies.
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