Cell secretion mediated by granule-associated vesicle transport: A glimpse at evolution

Enrico Crivellato, Beatrice Nico, Valentina Patrizia Gallo, Domenico Ribatti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Regulated secretion allows extrusion of cell products stored in specialized membrane-bound organelles called secretory granules or secretory vesicles. Regulated secretion provides basic functions in living organisms, and in a phylogenetic perspective, it is recognizable in the most primitive eukaryotic forms. This article is an attempt to trace the evolutionary history of a special type of secretory pattern, which has been referred to as vesicle-mediated degranulation or piecemeal degranulation (PMD). First described in the early 70s of the last century in inflammatory cells, such as the basophils, mast cells, and eosinophils, this regulated secretory route has subsequently been recognized in endocrine cells, in particular in the chromaffin cells of the adrenal medulla. This vesicle-mediated degranulation is held to mobilize small and specific aliquots of granule-associated material for selective paracrine or endocrine transport to the cell exterior. PMD has been identified in many vertebrate classes. By contrast, no data are available for invertebrates.We speculate that this pattern of cell secretion emerged early in phylogenesis, when the first metazoans appeared. In this review article, we will first revise the concept of vesicle-mediated degranulation in the light of the most recent experimental discoveries and theoretical implications. Then, the distribution of this secretory mode among vertebrates and its molecular basis will be highlighted. Finally, the potential occurrence of PMD in invertebrates, its biological significance from an evolutionary perspective and the future direction of investigations will be briefly sketched.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1115-1124
Number of pages10
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Cell secretion
  • Phylogenesis
  • Piecemeal degranulation
  • Vesicle-mediated degranulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biotechnology
  • Medicine(all)


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