We analyzed transmission electron micrographs of human lung mast cells by digitized planimetry and point counting to determine the cross-sectional areas of two distinct cytoplasmic organelles: specific granules and lipid bodies. Specific granules have a limiting membrane and often contain one or more cylindrical scroll-like inclusions. By contrast, lipid bodies are on average much larger than granules and lack both limiting membranes and inclusions. The measured cross-sectional areas of lipid bodies and scroll-containing granules were converted to equivalent volumes, and the noise in the frequency distribution of these volumes was smoothed using a moving bin technique. This analysis revealed (a) a periodic, multimodal distribution of granule equivalent volumes in which the modes fell at volumes that were integral multiples of the volume defined by the first mode (the "unit volume"), and (b) a modal granule equivalent volume frequency that occurred at a magnitude equal to four "unit volumes." Thus, specific granules appear to be composed of units of a narrowly fixed volume. Furthermore, the mean volume of intragranule inclusions was 0.0061 mu3, a value very similar to that calculated for the "unit volume" (0.0071 mu3). This result suggests that each "unit volume" comprising the individual scroll-type granules contains (or is capable of generating or accommodating) a single scroll-like inclusion. In contrast to the specific granules, mast cell lipid bodies lack a periodic, multimodal volume distribution. Taken together, these findings suggest that the volumes of human lung mast cell granules and lipid bodies are regulated by distinct mechanisms.

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