Tracking single secretory granules in live chromaffin cells by evanescent-field fluorescence microscopy

Biophys J. 1999 Apr;76(4):2262-71. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77382-0.


We have observed secretory granules beneath the plasma membrane of chromaffin cells. Using evanescent-field excitation by epiillumination, we have illuminated a thin layer of cytosol where cells adhere to glass coverslips. Up to 600 frames could be recorded at diffraction-limited resolution without appreciable photodynamic damage. We localized single granules with an uncertainty of approximately 30 nm and tracked their motion in three dimensions. Granules in resting cells wander randomly as if imprisoned in a cage that leaves approximately 70 nm space around a granule. The "cage" itself moves only slowly (D = 2 x 10(-12) cm2/s). Rarely do granules arrive at or depart from the plasma membrane of resting cells. Stimulation increases lateral motion only slightly. After the plasma membrane has been depleted of granules by exocytosis, fresh granules can be seen to approach it at an angle. The method will be useful for exploring the molecular steps preceding exocytosis at the level of single granules.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Cattle
  • Cell Degranulation
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Chromaffin Cells / drug effects
  • Chromaffin Cells / metabolism*
  • Chromaffin Cells / ultrastructure*
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / ultrastructure*
  • Diffusion
  • Exocytosis
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / instrumentation
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Movement
  • Potassium / pharmacology


  • Potassium