Suggestive evidence of a vesicle-mediated mode of cell degranulation in chromaffin cells. A high-resolution scanning electron microscopy investigation

Enrico Crivellato, Paola Solinas, Raffaella Isola, Domenico Ribatti, Alessandro Riva

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In this study we used a modified osmium maceration method for high-resolution scanning electron microscopy to study some ultrastructural details fitting the schema of piecemeal degranulation in chromaffin cells. Piecemeal degranulation refers to a particulate pattern of cell secretion that is accomplished by vesicle-mediated extracellular transport of granule-stored material. We investigated adrenal samples from control and angiotensin II-treated rats, and identified a variable proportion of smooth, 30-60-nm-diameter vesicles in the cytoplasm of chromaffin cells. A percentage of these vesicles were interspersed in the cytosol among chromaffin granules but the majority appeared to be attached to granules. Remarkably, the number of unattached cytoplasmic vesicles was greatly increased in chromaffin cells from angiotensin II-treated animals. Vesicles of the same structure and dimension were detected close to or attached to the cytoplasmic face of the plasma membrane; these, too, were increased in number in chromaffin cells from rats stimulated with angiotensin II. In specimens shaken with a rotating agitator during maceration, the cytoplasmic organelles could be partially removed and the fine structure of the vesicular interaction with the inner side of the plasma membrane emerged most clearly. A proportion of chromaffin granules showed protrusions that we interpreted as vesicular structures budding from the granular envelope. In some instances, the transection plane intersected granules with putative vesicles emerging from the surfaces. In these cases, the protrusions of budding vesicles could be observed from the internal side. This study provides high-resolution scanning electron microscopy images compatible with a vesicle-mediated degranulation mode of cell secretion in adrenal chromaffin cells. The data indicating an increase in the number of vesicles observed in chromaffin cells after stimulation with the chromaffin cell secretagogue angiotensin II suggests that this secretory process may be susceptible to fine regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-524
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • Angiotensin II
  • Chromaffin cells
  • High-resolution scanning electron microscopy
  • Osmium maceration
  • Piecemeal degranulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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