Nerve endings of the posterior pituitary are densely populated by dense-core neurosecretory granules which are the storage sites for peptide neurohormones. In addition, they contain numerous clear microvesicles which are the same size as small synaptic vesicles of typical presynaptic nerve terminals. Several of the major proteins of small synaptic vesicles of presynaptic nerve terminals are present at high concentration in the posterior pituitary. We have now investigated the subcellular localization of such proteins. By immunogold electron microscopy carried out on bovine neurohypophysis we have found that three of these proteins, synapsin I, Protein III, and synaptophysin (protein p38) were concentrated on microvesicles but were not detectable in the membranes of neurosecretory granules. In addition, we have studied the distribution of the same proteins and of the synaptic vesicle protein p65 in subcellular fractions of bovine posterior pituitaries obtained by sucrose density centrifugation. We have found that the intrinsic membrane proteins synaptophysin and p65 had an identical distribution and were restricted to low density fractions of the gradient which contained numerous clear microvesicles with a size range the same as that of small synaptic vesicles. The peripheral membrane proteins synapsin I and Protein III exhibited a broader distribution extending into the denser part of the gradient. However, the amount of these proteins clearly declined in the fractions preceding the peak of neurosecretory granules. Our results suggest that microvesicles of the neurohypophysis are biochemically related to small synaptic vesicles of all other nerve terminals and argue against the hypothesis that such vesicles represent an endocytic byproduct of exocytosis of neurosecretory granules.

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