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Evaluation of the electrostatic field strength at the site of exocytosis in adrenal chromaffin cells.

  • K Rosenheck
Publication Date
Sep 01, 1998


Exocytosis in secretory cells consists of release from intracellular storage granules directly into the extracellular space via fusion of the granule membrane with the plasma membrane of the cell. It is considered here as comprising two distinct processes. One is the close apposition of granule and plasma membranes. The other arises from interactions between the two membranes during the process of apposition, leading to the formation of a fusion pore. In the following it is shown for the case of the adrenal medullary chromaffin cell that the fusion pore can be ascribed to electroporation of the granule membrane, triggered by the strong electric field existing at the site of exocytosis. Based on an electric surface charge model of the cytoplasmic side of the plasma membrane, resulting from the negatively charged phosphatidylserine groups, it is found that the electrostatic field strength at the site of exocytosis reaches values on the order of 10(8) V/m at small intermembrane distances of 3 nm and lower. The field strength increases with the size of the disc-shaped plasma membrane region generating the electric field, reaching an approximate limit for a radius of 10 nm, at a surface charge density of 5.4 x 10(-2) C/m2. According to previous experimental evaluations of threshold field strength, this field is sufficiently strong to cause membrane electroporation. This step is a precondition for the subsequent membrane fusion during the ongoing process of apposition, leading to secretion.

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