Electrophysiological and morphological methods were used to study connexin50 (Cx50) expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes. Oocytes expressing Cx50 exhibited a new population of intramembrane particles (9.0 nm in diameter) in the plasma membrane. The particles represented hemichannels (connexin hexamers) because (a) their cross-sectional area could accommodate 24 ± 3 helices, (b) when their density reached 300-400/μm2, they formed complete channels (dodecamers) in single oocytes, and assembled into plaques, and (c) their appearance in the plasma membrane was associated with a whole-cell current, which was activated at low external Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]o), and was blocked by octanol and by intracellular acidification. The Cx50 hemichannel density was directly proportional to the magnitude of the Cx50 Ca2+-sensitive current. Measurements of hemichannel density and the Ca2+-sensitive current in the same oocytes suggested that at physiological [Ca2+]o (1-2 mM), hemichannels rarely open. In the cytoplasm, hemichannels were present in ∼0.1-μm diameter "coated" and in larger 0.2-0.5-μm diameter vesicles. The smaller coated vesicles contained endogenous plasma membrane proteins of the oocyte intermingled with 5-40 Cx50 hemichannels, and were observed to fuse with the plasma membrane. The larger vesicles, which contained Cx50 hemichannels, gap junction channels, and endogenous membrane proteins, originated from invaginations of the plasma membrane, as their lumen was labeled with the extracellular marker peroxidase. The insertion rate of hemichannels into the plasma membrane (80,000/s), suggested that an average of 4,000 small coated vesicles were inserted every second. However, insertion of hemichannels occurred at a constant plasma membrane area, indicating that insertion by vesicle exocytosis (60-500 μm2 membranes/s) was balanced by plasma membrane endocytosis. These exocytotic and endocytotic rates suggest that the entire plasma membrane of the oocyte is replaced in ∼24 h.