The distribution of three proteins discharged by regulated exocytosis--growth hormone (GH), prolactin (PRL), and secretogranin II (SgII)--was investigated by double immunolabeling of ultrathin frozen sections in the acidophilic cells of the bovine pituitary. In mammotrophs, heavy PRL labeling was observed over secretory granule matrices (including the immature matrices at the trans Golgi surface) and also over Golgi cisternae. In contrast, in somatotrophs heavy GH labeling was restricted to the granule matrices; vesicles and tubules at the trans Golgi region showed some and the Golgi cisternae only sparse labeling. All somatotrophs and mammotrophs were heavily positive for GH and PRL, respectively, and were found to contain small amounts of the other hormone as well, which, however, was almost completely absent from granules, and was more concentrated in the Golgi complex, admixed with the predominant hormone. Mixed somatomammotrophs (approximately 26% of the acidophilic cells) were heavily positive for both GH and PRL. Although admixed within Golgi cisternae, the two hormones were stored separately within distinct granule types. A third type of granule was found to contain SgII. Spillage of small amounts of each of the three secretory proteins into granules containing predominantly another protein was common, but true intermixing (i.e., coexistence within single granules of comparable amounts of two proteins) was very rare. It is concluded that in the regulated pathway of acidophilic pituitary, cell mechanisms exist that cause sorting of the three secretory proteins investigated. Such mechanisms operate beyond the Golgi cisternae, possibly at the sites where condensation of secretion products into granule matrices takes place.

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