Stationary-phase cells of Paramecium tetraurelia have most of their many secretory vesicles ("trichocysts") attached to the cell surface. Log-phase cells contain numerous unoccupied potential docking sites for trichocysts and many free trichocysts in the cytoplasm. To study the possible involvement of cytoskeletal elements, notably of microtubules, in the process of positioning of trichocysts at the cell surface, we took advantage of these stages. Cells were stained with tannic acid and subsequently analyzed by electron microscopy. Semithin sections allowed the determination of structural connections over a range of up to 10 micrometer. Microtubules emanating from ciliary basal bodies are seen in contact with free trichocysts, which appear to be transported, with their tip first, to the cell surface. (This can account for the saltatory movement reported by others). It is noteworthy that the "rails" represented by the microtubules do not directly determine the final attachment site of a trichocyst. Unoccupied attachment sites are characterized by a "plug" of electron-dense material just below the plasma membrane; the "plug" seems to act as a recognition or anchoring site; this material is squeezed out all around the trichocyst attachment zone, once a trichocyst is inserted (Westphal and Plattner, in press. [53]). Slightly below this "plug" we observed fasciae of microfilaments (identified by immunocytochemistry using peroxidase labeled F(ab) fragments against P. tetraurelia actin). Their arrangement is not altered when a trichocyst is docked. These fasciae seem to form a loophole for the insertion of a trichocyst. Trichocyst remain attached to the microtubules originating from the ciliary basal bodies--at least for some time--even after they are firmly installed in the preformed attachment sites. Evidently, the regular arrangement of exocytotic organelles is controlled on three levels: one operating over a long distance from the exocytosis site proper (microtubules), one over a short distance (microfilament bundles), and one directly on the exocytosis site ("plug").

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