We have devised a new method that permits the investigation of exogenous secretory vesicle function using frog oocytes and bovine chromaffin granules, the secretory vesicles from adrenal chromaffin cells. Highly purified chromaffin granule membranes were injected into Xenopus laevis oocytes. Exocytosis was detected by the appearance of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase of the chromaffin granule membrane in the oocyte plasma membrane. The appearance of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase on the oocyte surface was strongly Ca(2+)-dependent and was stimulated by coinjection of the chromaffin granule membranes with InsP3 or Ca2+/EGTA buffer (18 microM free Ca2+) or by incubation of the injected oocytes in medium containing the Ca2+ ionophore ionomycin. Similar experiments were performed with a subcellular fraction from cultured chromaffin cells enriched with [3H]norepinephrine-containing chromaffin granules. Because the release of [3H]norepinephrine was strongly correlated with the appearance of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase on the oocyte surface, it is likely that intact chromaffin granules and chromaffin granule membranes undergo exocytosis in the oocyte. Thus, the secretory vesicle membrane without normal vesicle contents is competent to undergo the sequence of events leading to exocytosis. Furthermore, the interchangeability of mammalian and amphibian components suggests substantial biochemical conservation of the regulated exocytotic pathway during the evolutionary progression from amphibians to mammals.

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