Isolated matrices of the giant secretory vesicles of mast cells of the beige mouse were reliably produced by the osmotic lysis of isolated vesicles. These matrices maintained their form, and their sizes were easily measured using Nomarski optics. The size of the matrix depended on the ionic composition of the bathing solution. The physiologically relevant ions, histamine and serotonin, contracted the matrix. Multivalent cations condensed the matrix relative to univalents. Ag+, acid pH (below 5), and basic pH (above 9) expanded the matrix. In the presence of 10 mM histamine, lowering the pH from 9 to 5 contracted the matrix more than can be attributed to the pH-dependent matrix contraction in zero histamine. The nontitratable organic cation, dimethonium, contracts the matrix with little effect of pH in the range of 5-9. These results suggest that histamine acts as a matrix contractor in the divalent form. The dose-response (contraction) relation for histamine was gradual from micromolar to 316 mM (millimolar) histamine. Experiments with mixtures of histamine and sodium show antagonistic effects on the matrix but are inconsistent with either a model where ions compete for identical sites or a parallel model where ions interact with separate independent sites. In vigorous histamine washoff experiments, the half time for vesicle expansion in 10(-4) M pH buffer was approximately 4 s; in isotonic NaCl solution, it was 0.5 s. When 1 M histamine was presented to closely apposed matrices, fusion resulted. The matrix material returned to its initial shape after being mechanically deformed with a glass probe. These results suggest that the matrix size is controlled by its ion exchange properties. The matrix expansion can quantitatively account for the vesicular size increase observed upon exocytosis (as a postfusional event) and the osmotic nonideality of intact vesicles. The mechanical expansion is probably significant in the widening of the exocytotic pore and the dispersal of the vesicular contents.

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