A population of characteristic ellipsoidal dense-core vesicles was identified in axons of the giant cerebral neuron of the mollusc Aplysia. We injected [3H]serotonin into the cell body of this identified serotonergic neuron in the isolated central nervous system in order to study the subcellular components associated with the neurotransmitter. Subcellular fractionation by differential centrifugation indicated that injected serotonin was rapidly taken up into particulate form. [3H]Serotonin appeared in the axons within 2 h after injection, and export continued at a constant rate of 6% of the total in the neuron/h thereafter. The dependence of the total amounts of [3H]serotonin which appeared in the axons in 6 h (export from the cell body) on the amounts injected was consistent with the idea that export is a saturable process, possibly depending on the capacity of somatic vesicles or of some unidentified carrier for serotonin. [3H]Serotonin moved into both major branches of the axon, where it was translocated rapidly. The transmitter, which was shown by autoradiography to be restricted to the axons of the injected cell, was distributed along axons in accumulations of radioactivity; in contrast, its precursor, [5-3H]hydroxytryptophan, moved slowly along axons in a smooth, declining curve, its kinetics consistent with diffusion. Quantitative electron microscope autoradiography revealed that the dense-core vesicles and the cytosol of axons fixed with glutaraldehyde were labeled with [3H]serotonin.

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