Synaptic vesicles containing radioactive acetylcholine have been isolated from slices of Torpedo electric organ incubated with radioactive choline. The recently synthesized radioactive acetylcholine is preferentially removed from the vesicles by iso-osmotic gel filtration. There is therefore a small compartment of loosely bound recently synthesized acetylcholine within the monodisperse vesicle fraction. The specific radioactivity of this compartment correlates most closely with the ‘free’ acetylcholine of electric organ that is lost when the tissue is homogenized. Membrane-associated vesicles did not contain any particular enrichment of this compartment. On standing at 6°C the loosely bound compartment stabilizes so that it survives iso-osmotic filtration. A study of this phenomenon revealed that it was proportional to the extent of the loss of tightly bound acetylcholine from the vesicles. Incubation with Ca2+, at pH5.5, or partial hypo-osmotic shock, caused losses of tightly bound acetylcholine and proportional increases in the stabilization of loosely bound acetylcholine of vesicles. Incubation at 20°C caused less loss of tightly bound, and less stabilization of loosely bound, acetylcholine. A theoretical treatment of these exchanges also shows that the random factors promoting loss of tightly bound acetylcholine are statistically correlated with those which cause stabilization of loosely bound acetylcholine. The reciprocal relationship between the exchanges is inconsistent with there being two distinct populations of vesicles, one containing recently synthesized, loosely bound acetylcholine and the other containing tightly bound acetylcholine. It is proposed that all the vesicles contain a core of tightly bound acetylcholine and a surface layer of loosely bound acetylcholine. The origin of the extravesicular acetylcholine and also of the acetylcholine released on stimulation is discussed in the light of these results.

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