Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) are localized at high concentrations in the postsynaptic membrane of the neuromuscular junction. A peripheral membrane protein of Mr 43,000 (43K protein) is closely associated with AChRs and has been proposed to anchor receptors at postsynaptic sites. We have used the Xenopus oocyte expression system to test the idea that the 43K protein clusters AChRs. Mouse muscle AChRs expressed in oocytes after injection of RNA encoding receptor subunits are uniformly distributed in the surface membrane. Co-injection of AChR RNA and RNA encoding the mouse muscle 43K protein causes AChRs to form clusters of 0.5-1.5 μm diameter. AChR clustering is not a consequence of increased receptor expression in the surface membrane or nonspecific clustering of all membrane proteins. The 43K protein is colocalized with AChRs in clusters when the two proteins are expressed together and forms clusters of similar size even in the absence of AChRs. These results provide direct evidence that the 43K protein causes clustering of AChRs and suggest that regulation of 43K protein clustering may be a key step in neuromuscular synaptogenesis.
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