We have studied the effects of 25 mM potassium, electrical stimulation of the phrenic nerve, and crude black widow spider venom on the ultrastructure, electrophysiology, and acetylcholine (ACh) contents of mouse diaphragms. About 65% of the ACh in diaphragms is contained in a depletable store in the nerve terminals. The rest of the ACh is contained in a nondepletable store that may correspond to the store that remains in denervated muscles and includes, in addition, ACh in the intramuscular branches of the phrenic nerve. About 4% of the ACh released from the depletable store at rest is secreted as quanta and may come from the vesicles, while 96% is secreted in a nonquantized form and comes from an extravesicular pool. The size of the extravesicular pool is uncertain: it could be less than 10%, or as great as 50%, of the depletable store. K causes a highly (but perhaps not perfectly) selective increase in the rate of quantal secretion so that quanta account for about 50% of the total ACh released from K-treated diaphragms. K, or electrical stimulation of the phrenic nerve, depletes both the vesicular and extravesicular pools of ACh when hemicholinium no. 3 (HC-3) is present. However, most of the vesicles are retained under these conditions so that the diaphragms are able to increase slightly their rates of release of ACh when K is added. Venom depletes the terminals of their vesicles and abolishes the release of quanta of ACh. It depletes the vesicular pool of ACh (since it depletes the vesicles), but may only partially deplete the extravesicular pool (since it reduces resting release only 10--40%). The rate of release of ACh from the residual extravesicular pool does not increase when 25 mM K is added. Although we cannot exclude the possibility that stimulation may double the rate of release of ACh from the extravesicular pool, our results are compatible with the idea that the ACh released by stimulation comes mainly from the vesicles and that, when synthesis is inhibited by HC-3, ACh may be exchanged between the extravesicular pool and recycled vesicles.

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