The pathway and kinetics of the secretory protein transport in rat lacrimal exorbital gland have been established by an in vitro time-course radioautographic study of pulse-labeled protein secretion. The colchicine-sensitive steps have been localized by using the drug at various times with respect to the pulse labeling of proteins. Colchicine (10 microM) does not block any step of the secretory protein transport, but when introduced before the pulse it decreases the transfer of labeled proteins from the rough endoplasmic reticulum to the Golgi area, suppressing their temporary accumulation in the Golgi area before any alteration of this organelle is detectable. Moreover, colchicine inhibits protein release only from the secretory granules formed in its presence because the peroxidase discharge is diminished 1 h after colchicine addition, and the secretion of newly synthesized proteins is strongly inhibited only when colchicine is introduced before secretory granule formation. Morphometric studies show that there is a great increase of secondary lysosomes, related to crinophagy, as early as 40-50 min after colchicine is added. However, changes in lysosomal enzymatic activities remained biochemically undetectable. We conclude that: (a) the labile microtubular system does not seem indispensable for protein transport in the rough endoplasmic reticulum-Golgi area but may facilitate this step, perhaps by maintaining the spatial organization of this area; and (b) in the lacrimal gland, colchicine inhibits protein release not by acting on the steps of secretion following the secretory granule formation, but by acting chiefly on the steps preceding secretory granule formation, perhaps by making the secretory granules formed in its presence incapable of discharging their content.

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