The presence of unique proteins in synaptic vesicles of neurons suggests selective targeting during vesicle formation. Endocrine, but not other cells, also express synaptic vesicle membrane proteins and target them selectively to small intracellular vesicles. We show that the rat pheochromocytoma cell line, PC12, has a population of small vesicles with sedimentation and density properties very similar to those of rat brain synaptic vesicles. When synaptophysin is expressed in nonneuronal cells, it is found in intracellular organelles that are not the size of synaptic vesicles. The major protein in the small vesicles isolated from PC12 cells is found to be synaptophysin, which is also the major protein in rat brain vesicles. At least two of the minor proteins in the small vesicles are also known synaptic vesicle membrane proteins. Synaptic vesicle-like structures in PC12 cells can be shown to take up an exogenous bulk phase marker, HRP. Their proteins, including synaptophysin, are labeled if the cells are surface labeled and subsequently warmed. Although the PC12 vesicles can arise by endocytosis, they seem to exclude the receptor-mediated endocytosis marker, transferrin. We conclude that PC12 cells contain synaptic vesicle-like structures that resemble authentic synaptic vesicles in physical properties, protein composition and endocytotic origin.

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