The detection of exocytotic fusion in patch-clamped secretory cells depends on measuring an increase in the cell membrane capacitance as new membrane is added to the plasma membrane. However, in the majority of secretory cells, secretory vesicles are too small (< 200 nm in diameter) to cause a detectable signal. We have found that incubations of normal mouse mast cells with the hydrophobic anion dipicrylamine (DPA), increases cell membrane capacitance by about three times. The large capacitive current induced by DPA was voltage-dependent, having a maximum value at -10 mV. The DPA-induced charge movement could be described by a single barrier model in which the DPA molecules move between two stable states in the bulk lipid matrix of the membrane. More importantly, the DPA treatment produced a sevenfold increase in the size of the capacitance steps observed upon the exocytotic fusion of single secretory granules. A similar amplification of DPA on the secretory vesicle capacitance was observed in a cell with larger (< or = 5 microns in diameter) or with smaller secretory granules (< 250 nm in diameter). Additionally, the increased granule membrane capacitance enlarged the transient capacitive discharge measured upon formation of a fusion pore in normal mast cell granules. Our results indicate that hydrophobic ions provide an important tool for high resolution studies of membrane capacitance.
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