We have studied presynaptic and postsynaptic differentiation at neuromuscular junctions in vitro by examining the localization of synapse- specific proteins. In nerve-muscle co-cultures, the synaptic vesicle protein synaptotagmin (p65) accumulated in the nerve terminal overlying myotubes in association with postsynaptic clusters of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs), heparan sulfate pro-teoglycan (HSPG), laminin, and agrin. Inhibition of collagen synthesis with cis-hydroxyproline decreased the nerve-induced clustering of AChRs in muscle cells as well as that caused by exogenous agrin in muscle-only cultures. Moreover, accumulation of HSPG at contacts was also inhibited in cis-hydroxyproline-treated cultures. However, accumulation of p65 in nerve fibers at sites of muscle contact, a sign of presynaptic differentiation, was unaffected by cis-hydroxyproline treatment. In addition, even in cis-hydroxyproline-inhibited cultures, agrin was evident at more than 90% of contacts showing accumulation of p65 in the nerve terminal. Therefore, a mechanism exists to maintain agrin concentrations at nerve-muscle contacts, even when at least some extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins are disrupted. Our results suggest that HSPG is not required for the induction of nerve terminal differentiation but are consistent with the idea that HSPG or other ECM proteins are important in both nerve- and agrin-induced AChR clustering. In particular, agrin accumulation at sites of nerve-muscle contact is not sufficient to induce AChR clusters when the ECM at these contacts is disrupted.
- acetylcholine receptor
- heparan sulfate proteoglycan
- neuromuscular differentiation
ASJC Scopus subject areas