We have investigated the granule fusion events during exocytosis in horse eosinophils by time-resolved patch-clamp capacitance measurements. Stimulation with intracellular GTP gamma S leads to a stepwise capacitance increase by 4.0 +/- 0.9 pF. At GTP gamma S concentrations < 20 microM the step size distribution is in agreement with the granule size distribution in resting cells. Above 80 microM the number of steps is reduced and very large steps occur. The total capacitance increase, however, is unaffected. These results show that at high GTP gamma S concentrations granule--granule fusion occurs inside the cell forming large compound granules, which then fuse with the plasma membrane (compound exocytosis). The electrical equivalent circuit of the cell during degranulation indicates the formation of a degranulation sac by cumulative fusion events. Fusion of the first granule with the plasma membrane induces fusion of further granules with this granule directing the release of all the granular material to the first fusion pore. The physiological function of eosinophils is the killing of parasites. Compound exocytosis and cumulative fusion enable the cells to focus the release of cytotoxic proteins to well defined target regions and prevent uncontrolled diffusion of this material, which would damage intact host cells.