The exocytotic exposure and retrieval of an antigen of chromaffin granule membranes were studied with chromaffin cells isolated from bovine adrenal medulla. Cells were incubated with an antiserum against glycoprotein III followed by fluorescein- or gold-labeled anti-IgG. Immunofluorescence on the cell surface was present in a patchy distribution irrespective of whether bivalent antibodies or Fab fragments were used. During subsequent incubation these fluorescent membrane patches were internalized within 45 min. At the ultrastructural level immunogold-labeled patches were present on the surface of stimulated cells. During incubation (5 min to 6 h) these immunolabeled membrane patches became coated, giving rise to coated vesicles and finally to smooth vesicles. These latter vesicles were found spread throughout the cytoplasm including the Golgi region, but Golgi stacks did not become labeled. Part of the immunolabel was transferred to multivesicular bodies, which probably represent a lysosomal pathway. 30 min after incubation immunolabel was also found in electron-dense vesicles apparently representing newly formed chromaffin granules. After 6 h of incubation immunolabel was found in vesicles indistinguishable from mature chromaffin granules. These results provide direct evidence that after exocytosis membranes of chromaffin granules are selectively retrieved from the plasma membrane and are partly recycled to newly formed chromaffin granules, providing a shuttle service from the Golgi region to the plasma membrane.

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