To determine whether there are anatomical correlates for intraterminal Ca2+ stores to regulate exocytosis of dense-cored vesicles (DCVs) and whether these stores can modulate exocytosis of synaptic vesicles, we studied the spatial distributions of DCVs, smooth endoplasmic reticulum (SER), and mitochondria in 19 serially reconstructed nerve terminals in bullfrog sympathetic ganglia. On average, each bouton had three active zones, 214 DCVs, 26 SER fragments (SERFs), and eight mitochondria. DCVs, SERFs and mitochondria were located, on average, 690, 624, and 526 nm, respectively, away from active zones. Virtually no DCVs were within "docking" (i.e., < or = 50 nm) distances of the active zones. Thus, it is unlikely that DCV exocytosis occurs at active zones via mechanisms similar to those for exocytosis of synaptic vesicles. Because there were virtually no SERFs or mitochondria within 50 nm of any active zone, Ca2+ modulation by these organelles is unlikely to affect ACh release evoked by a single action potential. In contrast, 30% of DCVs and 40% of SERFs were located within 50 nm of the nonspecialized regions of the plasma membrane. Because each bouton had at least one SERF within 50 nm of the plasma membrane and most of these SERFs had DCVs, but not mitochondria, near them, it is possible for Ca2+ release from the SER to provide the Ca2+ necessary for DCV exocytosis. The fact that 60% of the mitochondria had some part within 50 nm of the plasma membrane means that it is possible for mitochondrial Ca2+ buffering to affect DCV exocytosis.