The cytoskeleton as a barrier to exocytosis in secretory cells

J Exp Biol. 1988 Sep:139:253-66. doi: 10.1242/jeb.139.1.253.


Chromaffin cells of the adrenal medulla synthesize, store and secrete catecholamines. These cells contain numerous electron-dense secretory granules which discharge their contents into the extracellular space by exocytosis. The subplasmalemmal area of the chromaffin cell is characterized by the presence of a highly organized cytoskeletal network. F-Actin seems to be exclusively localized in this area and together with specific actin-binding proteins forms a dense viscoelastic gel; fodrin, vinculin and caldesmon, three actin cross-linking proteins, and gelsolin, an actin-severing protein, are found in this subplasmalemmal region. Since fodrin-, caldesmon- and alpha-actinin-binding sites exist on secretory granule membranes, actin filaments can also link secretory granules. Chromaffin granules can be entrapped in this subplasmalemmal lattice and thus the cytoskeleton acts as a barrier preventing exocytosis. When cells are stimulated, molecular rearrangements of the subplasmalemmal cytoskeleton take place: F-actin depolymerizes and fodrin reorganizes into patches. In addition, introduction of monospecific antifodrin immunoglobulins into digitonin-permeabilized cells blocks exocytosis, demonstrating the crucial role of this actin-binding protein. In bacterial toxin-permeabilized chromaffin cells, experiments using actin-perturbing agents such as cytochalasin D and DNAase I suggest that exocytosis is in part controlled by the cytoskeleton. The intracellular signal governing the cytoskeletal reorganization (associated with exocytosis) is calcium. Calcium inhibits some and activates other actin-binding proteins and consequently causes dissolution of the subplasmalemmal cytoskeleton. This dissolution of cytoskeletal filaments should result in granule detachment and permit granules free access to exocytotic sites on the plasma membrane.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Chromaffin Granules / physiology
  • Chromaffin System / physiology
  • Chromaffin System / ultrastructure
  • Cytoplasmic Granules / physiology
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Exocytosis*


  • Catecholamines