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J Neurosci. 1992 Aug;12(8):2982-92.

Early appearance of and neuronal contribution to agrin-like molecules at embryonic frog nerve-muscle synapses formed in culture.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Antibodies against chicken and Torpedo agrin were used for immunofluorescent staining in order to assess the spatial distribution and temporal appearance of agrin-like molecules at newly formed synaptic contacts in cultures of embryonic Xenopus nerve and muscle cells. The antibodies stained Xenopus neuromuscular junctions and removed ACh receptor (AChR)-aggregating activity from extracts of Xenopus brain. Immunofluorescence was observed at almost all nerve-induced AChR aggregates, even at microaggregates in cocultures as young as 7.5 hr and at nerve-muscle contacts less than 2 hr old. Microdeposits of immunofluorescence extended as far distally as, or farther than, the microaggregates of AChRs along young nerve-muscle contacts. They also occurred along portions of growing neurites that were not in contact with muscle. By contrast, immunofluorescence was rarely observed at the nonsynaptic aggregates of AChRs that form on noninnervated muscle cells. These results raise the possibility that neuronally derived microaggregates of agrin-like molecules may be primary sites of nerve-induced clustering of AChRs, and they indicate that these molecules are present at embryonic nerve-muscle synapses from the very onset of AChR aggregation. The cellular origin of the agrin-like molecules at synapses was examined in cross-species cocultures in which the neurons and muscle cells were obtained from embryos of Xenopus laevis and Rana pipiens. Immunofluorescent staining with anti-agrin antibodies reactive at both Rana and Xenopus neuromuscular junctions revealed immunofluorescence at AChR aggregates along nerve-muscle contacts involving both cross-species combinations. Immunofluorescent staining with an anti-agrin antibody reactive at Rana but not at Xenopus neuromuscular junctions was positive only at cross-species nerve-muscle contacts involving Rana neurons. These results provide the first demonstration that embryonic neurons supply agrin-like molecules to the synapses they form with embryonic muscle cells.

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