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J Neurochem. 1987 Dec;49(6):1697-707.

Digitonin-permeabilized cells are exocytosis competent.

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Department of Biochemistry, Biocenter of the University, Basel, Switzerland.


Release of norepinephrine from PC12 cells can be stimulated by free Ca2+ in micromolar concentrations after permeabilization with 10 micrograms/ml of digitonin. This release is time and temperature dependent, half-maximal at 0.3 microM Ca2+, and, after washing out of endogenous ATP, half-maximal at about 0.5 mM MgATP when exogenously added. Similar results were obtained with bovine adrenal chromaffin cells using the same protocol. Support for the idea that the mechanism of release from both permeabilized cell types is still exocytosis is demonstrated at the electron microscopic level by immunolabeling chromaffin granule membrane antigens that were introduced into the plasma membrane following stimulation. Electron micrographs furthermore demonstrate that chromaffin granules retain typical dense cores after permeabilization, indicating that leakiness of catecholamines from the granules was not a major factor. Pores, formed by digitonin in the plasma membranes, were utilized to introduce antibodies into such exocytosis-competent cells. Anti-actin and anti-chromaffin granule membrane antibodies show a staining pattern similar to conventionally fixed and stained preparations. Our results demonstrate that pores formed by digitonin do not impair the process of exocytosis although they are big enough to allow macromolecules to pass in both directions. The digitonin-permeabilized cell is therefore an ideal in vitro system with which to study the fusion process between chromaffin granules and the plasma membrane.

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