Rat basophilic leukemic cells contain protein kinase C (PKC), 96 +/- 1% of which is located in the cytosol in the resting state. Phorbol ester (PMA), synergistically with calcium ionophore (A23187), caused 55% of the total PKC activity to associate rapidly with membranes where it remained for at least 20 min. When IgE-loaded cells were activated by Ag, maximally 30% of the cytosolic activity associated with membranes within 15 to 30 s, but most of this returned to the cytosol by 2 min. The small amount (3%) of PKC activity that remained associated with the membranes did so for at least 20 min but only if aggregation of the receptors was maintained. PKC translocation correlated with aggregation of receptors both at 30 s and at 10 min. However, only the translocation at 10 min and not that at 30 s correlated with receptor-induced exocytosis. In the absence of extracellular calcium (no exocytosis is observed), translocation at 30 s was diminished by 30% and at 10 min was completely absent. Cells depleted of PKC by 18-h treatment with PMA failed to degranulate in response to PMA and A23187 but responded partially (35%) when receptors were aggregated. We conclude that translocation of PKC is an early event that follows aggregation of IgE receptors but may not be essential for mediating the exocytotic mechanism induced by these receptors.

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