The secretory system of intact chromaffin cells is not accessible to direct chemical manipulation because of the selective permeability of the plasmalemma. We have devised a simple procedure for chemically "skinning" (permeabilizing) cultured adrenal medullary chromaffin cells by brief exposure to the detergent saponin. This procedure disrupts the continuity of the plasmalemma, thus allowing us to bypass those aspects of the secretory process controlled by the cell membrane and giving direct access to exogenous substances to the cellular secretory machinery. We report here that the skinned cells retain a fully competent secretory mechanism dependent only on exogenous calcium and MgATP. Saponin treatment had no significant effect on the total catecholamine content of the cells. Secretion could be initiated by either MgATP or calcium as long as the other was present in the medium. Catecholamine and dopamine-beta-hydroxylase release by the skinned cells was dependent on the calcium concentration of the medium. The ratio of secreted catecholamine and enzyme was similar to that of the cells, indicating that secretion occurred by an exocytotic mechanism. About half the total cellular content of the cytoplasmic enzyme lactic dehydrogenase was released during the permeabilization process and subsequent incubations, indicating plasmalemma permeability to molecules as large as protein. Calcium-induced secretion was unaffected by several drugs known to affect catecholamines and granule function. Saponin treatment of chromaffin cells in culture appears to be a simple means for allowing access to exogenous substances to the cells' secretory machinery. Therefore, it offers the opportunity to use chemical treatments, and perhaps specific antibodies to cellular components, to determine the role of these elements in the secretory process. These techniques should also be applicable to other cells known to secrete by an exocytotic mechanism.