Mast cells were enzymatically dissociated from human lung fragments that had been sensitized with serum from human allergic to ragweed and were enriched by isopyknic and velocity gradient sedimentation. Electron microscope examination showed that the mast cells were well preserved at the end of the dissociation and isolation and that the majority of their secretory granules contained crystalline structures. These structures exhibited three patterns--scrolls, gratings, and lattices--which all could be found in the same granule. The period of crystalline structures was found to be bimodal, with maxima at 150 and 75 A. Both periods were observed in gratings that had been tilted and in scrolls that had been cut obliquely, indicating that the various gross patterns are composed of the same basic substructure. After the mast cells were stimulated by rabbit anti-human IgE to release histamine, the contents of the granule were transformed from a crystalline to an amorphous state, and only granules with amorphous contents were seen discharging from the cell. Clusters of intermediate filaments were present around the granules with amorphous contents, both deep in the cytoplasm and discharging at the cell surface. Discharge occurred both by fusion of granule membranes with the plasma membrane and by fusion of granule membranes with other granule membranes that ultimately were continuous with the plasma membrane. After discharge, the granule residue was fibrillar. Cells challenged with anti-human IgE in calcium-free medium neither released histamine nor demonstrated morphologic changes in their granules. We conclude that the crystalline state represents a storage form for materials that are solubilized before fusion of the granule membrane with the plasma membrane and discharge.

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