Retractor unguis nerve muscle preparations from the locust were subjected to the zinc iodide-osmium tetroxide reaction (ZIO) after pre-fixation in glutaraldehyde. Applied for 18 h at 4 degrees C in the dark, ZIO reacts at pH 4.2--4.0 fairly selectively with the matrix of synaptic vesicles. Approximately 53% of the vesicles are completely and 4% partially stained. The percentage of ZIO-positive vesicles is increased to nearly 90% and reduced to 4% or less by pretreatment with SH-protecting (dithiothreitol) or SH-blocking (N-ethylmaleimide, p-chloromercuriphenyl sulfonic acid) and SH-oxidizing (azodicarboxylic acid-bis-dimethylamide) reagents, respectively. Stimulation of the motor nerve at 20 Hz for 7 min, partially fatiguing synaptic transmission, reduces the number of vesicles per square micrometer of terminal area by approximately 52%; 2 min of rest restores this number of its pre-stimulation level. These changes are chiefly accounted for by changes in the number of completely ZIO-positive vesicles. 2 min after the end of stimulation, partially ZIO-positive vesicles are three times more frequent than before. With all experimental conditions, the average volume of vesicles was as follows: ZIO-negative less than partially ZIO-positive less than completely ZIO-positive. The average volume of ZIO-positive vesicles is almost unaffected by stimulation; that of ZIO-negative vesicles is decreased by 25% immediately after stimulation, increasing with subsequent rest to the initial level after 1 h. It is suggested (a) that ZIO demonstrates intravesicular protein(s) containing SH-groups and (b) that the completely ZIO-positive vesicles represent the mature ones ready to be used for transmitter release. How the ZIO reaction differentiates between different developmental stages of vesicles which could arise from the smooth endoplasmic reticulum is discussed.

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