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In the present investigation, we attempted to determine whether ultrastructural features indicative of a vesicle-mediated mode of cell secretion were detectable in chick chromaffin cells during embryo development. The adrenal anlagen of domestic fowls were examined at embryonic days (E) 12, 15, 19 and 21 by electron microscopy quantitative analysis. Morphometric evaluation revealed a series of granule and cytoplasmic changes highly specific for piecemeal degranulation (PMD), a secretory process based on vesicular transport of cargoes from within granules for extracellular release. At E19 and E21 we found a significant peak in the percentage of granules exhibiting changes indicative of progressive release of secretory materials, i.e. granules with lucent areas in their cores, reduced electron density, disassembled matrices, residual cores and membrane empty containers. A dramatic raise in the density of 30–80-nm-diameter, membrane-bound, electron-dense and electron-lucent vesicles – which were located either next to granules or close to the plasma membrane – was recognizable at E19, that is, during the prehatching phase. The cytoplasmic burst of dense and clear vesicles was paralleled by the appearance of chromaffin granules showing outpouches or protrusions of their profiles (‘budding features’). These ultrastructural data are indicative of an augmented vesicle-mediated transport of chromaffin granule products for extracellular release in chick embryo chromaffin cells during the prehatching stage. In conclusion, this study provides new data on the fine structure of chromaffin cell organelles during organ development and suggests that PMD may be part of an adrenomedullary secretory response that occurs towards the end of chicken embryogenesis. From an evolutionary point of view, this study lends support to the concept that PMD is a secretory mechanism highly conserved throughout vertebrate classes.