Calcium (Ca)-containing fixation solutions applied to slices of electric organ of the electric ray, Narcine brasiliensis, have been shown to have three distinct ultrastructural effects on cholinergic synaptic vesicles of the nerve terminals.
(a) An electron-dense particle (EDS) is observed within the vesicle; the particle is seen in unosmicated, unstained tissues and can be removed from thin sections by Ca-chelating agents. It is concluded that the EDS represents Ca bound by the vesicle. It is suggested that the bound ATP of the vesicle provides anionic Ca binding sites.
(b) The vesicle membrane tends to ‘crinkle’ or collapse depending on the concentration of the other components of the fixative solution. The ‘crinkling’ or collapse are largely reversed by a wash step in the absence of Ca.
(c) The presence of Ca results in the appearance of a population of vesicles which form characteristic fusions or ‘tight’ junctions with the terminal membrane. This appears to be morphological evidence for the proposal, which has been frequently put forward, that Ca facilitates such a fusion before discharge of vesicle-bound transmitter.
With the discovery that the use of Ca-containing fixatives leads to the demonstration of a subpopulation of synaptic vesicles fused to the terminal membrane, we are led to propose that this is the ultrastructural location of the newly synthesized acetylcholine which has been shown by others to be preferentially released by stimulation.