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Eur J Biochem. 1999 Oct 1;265(1):1-10.

Formation of the neuromuscular junction. Agrin and its unusual receptors.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie, Abteilung Biochemie, Tübingen, Germany.


Synapses are essential relay stations for the transmission of information between neurones and other cells. An ordered and tightly regulated formation of these structures is crucial for the functioning of the nervous system. The induction of the intensively studied synapse between nerve and muscle is initiated by the binding of neurone-specific isoforms of the basal membrane protein agrin to receptors on the surface of myotubes. Agrin activates a receptor complex that includes the muscle-specific kinase and most likely additional, yet to be identified, components. Receptor activation leads to the aggregation of acetylcholine receptors (AChR) and other proteins of the postsynaptic apparatus. This activation process has unique features which distinguish it from other receptor tyrosine kinases. In particular, the autophosphorylation of the kinase domain, which usually induces the recruitment of adaptor and signalling molecules, is not sufficient for AChR aggregation. Apparently, interactions of the extracellular domain with unknown components are also required for this process. Agrin binds to a second protein complex on the muscle surface known as the dystrophin-associated glycoprotein complex. This binding forms one end of a molecular link between the extracellular matrix and the cytoskeleton. While many components of the machinery triggering postsynaptic differentiation have now been identified, our picture of the molecular pathway causing the redistribution of synaptic proteins is still incomplete.

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