In skeletal muscle, depolarization of the plasma membrane, which is initiated at the neuromuscular junction, is transduced to a rise in cytoplasmic calcium at specialized structures known as triad junctions (TJs). TJs occur in the myofiber’s interior at regions near the z-lines, where transversely oriented tubular invaginations of the plasma membrane (T-tubules) form junctions with two elements of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR). Isolation of membrane fractions that are enriched in junctional complexes and which retain function has been reported.
Figure 1 shows a region of an electron micrograph containing an isolated TJ in the frozen-hydrated state. in the orientation shown, two SR-derived vesicles sandwich a flattened vesicle derived from the T-tubule. The junctional regions contain a complex distribution of density, presumably due to proteins that are known to be present in TJs. Electron tomography offers the means to determine the three-dimensional mass density from such micrographs, which would greatly aid in their interpretation. Only recently has the automated data collection technology for determining tomograms of non-stained, frozen-hydrated specimens become available. Here we describe the first tomographic reconstruction of a frozen-hydrated triad junction by automated electron tomography.