An intrinsic membrane protein of brain synaptic vesicles with Mr 38,000 (p38, synaptophysin) has recently been partially characterized (Jahn, R., W. Schiebler, C. Ouimet, and P. Greengard, 1985, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 83:4137-4141; Wiedenmann, B., and W. W. Franke, 1985, Cell, 41:1017-1028). We have now studied the presence of p38 in a variety of tissues by light and electron microscopy immunocytochemistry and by immunochemistry. Our results indicate that, within the nervous system, p38, like the neuron-specific phosphoprotein synapsin I, is present in virtually all nerve terminals and is selectively associated with small synaptic vesicles (SSVs). No p38 was detectable on large dense-core vesicles (LDCVs). p38 and synapsin I were found to be present in similar concentrations throughout the brain. Outside the nervous system, p38 was found in a variety of neuroendocrine cells, but not in any other cell type. In neuroendocrine cells p38 was localized on a pleiomorphic population of small, smooth-surfaced vesicles, which were interspersed among secretory granules and concentrated in the Golgi area, but not on the secretory granules themselves. Immunoblot analysis of endocrine tissues and cell lines revealed a band with a mobility slightly different from that of neuronal p38. This difference was attributable to a difference in glycosylation. The finding that p38, like synapsin I, is a component of SSVs of virtually all neurons, but not of LDCVs, supports the idea that SSVs and LDCVs are organelles of two distinct pathways for regulated neuronal secretion. In addition, our results indicate the presence in a variety of neuroendocrine cells of an endomembrane system, which is related to SSVs of neurons but is distinct from secretory granules.

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