Characterization of sequential exocytosis in a human neuroendocrine cell line using evanescent wave microscopy and "virtual trajectory" analysis

Eur Biophys J. 2007 Dec;37(1):55-69. doi: 10.1007/s00249-007-0161-3. Epub 2007 Apr 18.


Secretion of hormones and other bioactive substances is a fundamental process for virtually all multicellular organisms. Using total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM), we have studied the calcium-triggered exocytosis of single, fluorescently labeled large, dense core vesicles in the human neuroendocrine BON cell line. Three types of exocytotic events were observed: (1) simple fusions (disappearance of a fluorescent spot by rapid diffusion of the dye released to the extracellular space), (2) "orphan" fusions for which only rapid dye diffusion, but not the parent vesicle, could be detected, and (3) events with incomplete or multi-step disappearance of a fluorescent spot. Although all three types were reported previously, only the first case is clearly understood. Here, thanks to a combination of two-color imaging, variable angle TIRFM, and novel statistical analyses, we show that the latter two types of events are generated by the same basic mechanism, namely shape retention of fused vesicle ghosts which become targets for sequential fusions with deeper lying vesicles. Overall, approximately 25% of all exocytotic events occur via sequential fusion. Secondary vesicles, located 200-300 nm away from the cell membrane are as fusion ready as primary vesicles located very near the cell membrane. These findings call for a fundamental shift in current models of regulated secretion in endocrine cells. Previously, sequential fusion had been studied mainly using two-photon imaging. To the best of our knowledge, this work constitutes the first quantitative report on sequential fusion using TIRFM, despite its long running and widespread use in studies of secretory mechanisms.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Exocytosis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods*
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / cytology*
  • Neuroendocrine Cells / physiology*
  • Transport Vesicles / physiology*
  • Transport Vesicles / ultrastructure*