The uptake of exogenous [3H]dopamine, [3H]norepinephrine,[3H]epinephrine by dissociated chick embryo sympathetic neurons growing in tissue culture was studied by autoradiography. The neurons, growing in a medium containing nerve growth factor, rapidly and specifically took up all three catecholamines for at least 60 days, while no uptake was observed in several other cell types, including satellite cells and chick dorsal-root ganglion cells. The uptake was dependent on the concentration of the catecholamine and the duration of the pulse and was inhibited by cocaine and several sympathomimetic amines.
Labelling was visualized only with fixatives which react with catecholamines to form water-insoluble compounds.
Autoradiographs showed that the label was much denser over the axons than the cell bodies. The label was distributed uniformly along the axons and did not seem to be preferentially localized at the axon terminals or varicosities which contain aggregates of dense core granules. These observations indicate that a large portion of the exogenous 3[H]catecholamine is localized in an extragranular compartment and suggest that the differentiated function of the sympathetic neuronal cell membrane, which plays an important role in uptake, is retained after prolonged tissue culture.