Many neurons in the mollusc Aplysia are identifiable and provide a useful model system for investigating the cellular mechanisms used by the neuroendocrine system to mediate simple behaviors. In this study we determined the subcellular localization of eight Aplysia neuropeptides using immunogold labeling techniques, and analyzed the size distribution of dense core and granular vesicles in peptidergic neurons. Recent observations demonstrate that many neurons use multiple chemical messengers. Thus, an understanding of the functional significance of cotransmitters requires an analysis of their relative subcellular distributions. The peptides are expressed in a subset of neurons, or the exocrine atrial gland, and are primarily localized to dense core vesicles. Multiple regions of precursors which are cleaved into several components are co-localized. Each neuron has a distinct size distribution of peptide-containing dense core vesicles ranging in size from 65 to 600 nm. The atrial gland contains very large (up to 2 micron) peptide-containing granules. Single neurons have multiple populations of granules whose quantal sizes agree with predictions based on physical constraints. Some cells contain very large peptide-containing granules which are found in the cell soma and not in processes. Thus, the genetic determination of neuronal cell type includes not only transmitter choices but also multiple modes of packaging the intercellular messengers.

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