A reconstituted model was devised to study the mechanisms of fast axonal transport in the squid Loligo pealei. Axonal vesicles were isolated from axoplasm of the giant axon and labeled with rhodamine-conjugated octadecanol, a membrane-specific fluorescent probe. The labeled vesicles were then injected into a fresh preparation of extruded axoplasm in which endogenous vesicle transport was occurring normally. The movement of the fluorescent, exogenous vesicles was observed by epifluorescence microscopy for as long as 5 min without significant photobleaching, and the transport of endogenous, nonfluorescent vesicles was monitored by video-enhanced differential interference-contrast microscopy. The transport of fluorescent, exogenous vesicles was shown to be bidirectional and ATP-dependent and occurred at a mean rate of 6.98 +/- 4.11 micron/s (mean +/- standard deviation, n = 41). In comparison, the mean rate of transport of nonfluorescent, endogenous vesicles in control axoplasm treated with vesicle buffer alone was 4.76 +/- 1.60 micron/s (n = 64). These rates are slightly higher than the mean rate of endogenous vesicle movement in extruded axoplasm (3.56 +/- 1.05 micron/s, n = 40) not subject to vesicles or vesicle buffer. Not all vesicles and organelles, exogenous or endogenous, were observed to move. In experiments in which proteins of the surface of the fluorescent vesicles were digested with trypsin before injection, no movement of the fluorescent vesicles was observed, although the transport of endogenous vesicles and organelles appeared to proceed normally. The results summarized above indicate that isolated vesicles, incorporated into axoplasm, move with the characteristics of fast axonal transport. Because the vesicles are fluorescent, they can be readily distinguished from nonfluorescent, endogenous vesicles. Moreover, this system permits vesicle characteristics to be experimentally manipulated, and therefore may prove valuable for the elucidation of the mechanisms of fast axonal transport.