Morphological, biochemical, and membrane capacitance measurements were used to study the role of cortical filamentous actin (F-actin) in exocytosis. Fluorescence and electron microscopy of resting chromaffin cells revealed a cortical actin network that excluded secretory vesicles from the subplasmalemmal area. Phorbol ester (PMA) treatment disrupted cortical F-actin and increased both the number of vesicles within the 0-50 nm subplasmalemmal zone and the initial rate of stimulated catecholamine release. In PMA-pretreated cells, membrane capacitance studies showed an increased number of vesicles fusing with the plasmalemma during the first two depolarizations of a train. PMA did not affect voltage-dependent Ca2+ influx. The total number of vesicles fused with the plasma membrane correlated well with the number of vesicles occupying the 0-50 nm cortical zone. Therefore, cortical F-actin disassembly allows translocation of vesicles to the plasmalemma in preparation for exocytosis.