The ultrastructural changes in electropermeabilized bovine platelets that accompany the Ca2(+)-induced secretion of serotonin were investigated in ultra-thin sections of chemically fixed cells. Such preparations permitted us to study both the localization of and the structures associated with serotonin-containing dense granules. Localization of dense granules within cells was examined by measuring the shortest distances between the granular membranes and the plasma membrane. About 40% of total granules were located close to the plasma membrane at an average distance of 10.8 +/- 1.6 nm. 71% of the total number of granules were localized at a similar average distance of 12.5 +/- 2.7 nm in intact platelets. The percentage of granules apposed to the plasma membrane corresponded closely to the percentage of total serotonin that was maximally secreted after stimulation of the permeabilized (38 +/- 4.9%) and the intact platelets (72 +/- 3.6%). Furthermore, the percentage of granules anchored to the membrane, but not of those in other regions of permeabilized cells, decreased markedly when cells were stimulated for 30 s by extracellularly added Ca2+. The decrease in the numbers of granules in the vicinity of the plasma membrane corresponded to approximately 22% of the total number of dense granules that were used for measurements of the distances between the two membranes and corresponded roughly to the overall decrease (15%) in the average number of the granules per cell. Most dense granules were found to be associated with meshwork structures of microfilaments. Upon secretory stimulation, nonfilamentous, amorphous structures found between the plasma membrane and the apposed granules formed a bridge-like structure that connected both membranes without any obvious accompanying changes in the microfilament structures. These results suggest that the dense granules that are susceptible to secretory stimulation are anchored to the plasma membrane before stimulation, and that the formation of the bridge-like structure may participate in the Ca2(+)-regulated exocytosis.

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