We have developed a method for separating purified parotid secretory granules according to their degree of maturation, and we have used this method to examine the relationship between granule formation and stimulus-independent (constitutive) protein secretion. Constitutive export of pulse-labeled secretory proteins occurs almost entirely after their appearance in newly formed granules, and this secretion can be resolved kinetically into two distinct components. Later-phase secretion is the more prominent component and, according to kinetic and compositional criteria, appears to result from basal exocytosis of mature granules. In contrast, early-phase secretion (1.5-15% of constitutive protein output) appears to originate from maturing granules but differs significantly from granule content in composition; that is, the early component exports individual protein species in different relative amounts. Maturing granules, which are labeled most highly before and during the appearance of early-phase secretion, possess numerous coated membrane evaginations suggestive of vesicular traffic. We propose that, in addition to basal exocytosis of relatively mature granules, constitutive exocrine secretion results from limited, selective removal of content proteins from forming and maturing granules. Thus protein sorting and packaging occur together in granule compartments. Exocrine secretory granules constitute an extension of the post-Golgi sorting system and are not merely terminal depots for proximally targeted polypeptides.

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