Temporally Resolved Catecholamine Spikes Correspond to Single Vesicle Release from Individual Chromaffin Cells
Secretion of catecholamines from single bovine chromaffin cells in culture was elicited by brief pressure ejections from a micropipette containing nicotine, carbamoylcholine, or potassium ions or by mechanical stimulation. Release was monitored electrochemically with a carbon-fiber microelectrode placed adjacent to the cell. Cyclic voltammetry was used to identify secreted species, whereas constant potential amperometry was used for improved temporal resolution (millisecond range) of catecholamine detection. During secretion, brief current spikes were observed, which were shown to be due to detection of catecholamines by electrooxidation. The spikes have the physical characteristics of multimolecular packets of catecholamines released at random times and locations from the surface of the single cell. The half-width of the spikes was found to increase with an increase in cell-electrode spacing. The properties of the catecholamine spikes correlate well with expectations based on secretion from individual storage vesicles. Spikes do not occur in the absence of Ca2+ in the buffer, and the majority of spikes are found to be distributed between 0.2 and 2 picocoulombs, corresponding to 1-10 attomoles of catecholamine detected. The frequency of the spikes increases with the intensity of the stimulus, but the average quantity of catecholamine in each spike is independent of the stimulus. Thus, these measurements represent time-resolved observation of quantal secretion of catecholamines and provide direct evidence for the exocytotic hypothesis.