We have used the whole-cell patch-pipette technique to measure the step increases in the cell membrane capacitance (equivalent to the membrane area) caused by the fusion of secretory granules in degranulating murine mast cells. We have observed that up to 30% of the total membrane expansion caused by degranulation results from large fusion events that cannot be explained by the fusion of single secretory granules. These large events are observed mainly in the initial phase of a degranulation. We have developed a simple mathematical model for a mast cell to test whether these large events are caused by a stimulus-induced, granule-to-granule fusion that occurs before their exocytosis (multigranular exocytosis). Our results suggest that the large fusion events are caused by the exocytosis of granule aggregates that existed before stimulation and that are located at the cell's periphery. We propose a novel mechanism by which granule aggregates can be formed at the periphery of the cell. This mechanism relies on the ability of a transiently fused granule ("flicker") to fuse with more internally located granules in a sequential manner. This pattern may result in the formation of larger peripheral granules that later on can fuse with the membrane. The formation of peripheral granule aggregates may potentiate a subsequent secretory response.

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