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Dev Biol. 1996 Oct 10;179(1):223-38.

Maturation of the acetylcholine receptor in skeletal muscle: regulation of the AChR gamma-to-epsilon switch.

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  • 1Department of Molecular Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


During the development of the mammalian neuromuscular junction, acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) become localized to the postsynaptic muscle membrane. As this process nears completion, the fetal form of the receptor, containing a gamma subunit (composition alpha 2 beta gamma delta) is gradually replaced by an epsilon subunit-containing adult form (alpha 2 beta epsilon delta). To understand how this transition is controlled, we compared the expression and regulation of the AChR gamma and epsilon subunits in developing, adult, and cultured muscles. Immunostaining with subunit-specific antibodies showed that replacement of gamma subunit- by epsilon subunit-containing AChRs occurs largely during the first postnatal week in fast-twitch muscles, and occurs homogeneously throughout individual endplates. In the slow-twitch soleus, however, this transition is delayed, and in the multiply innervated slow fibers of extraocular muscle, gamma subunit expression persists into adulthood. The transcriptional bases of the AChR subunit transition, and of these intermuscular variations, were demonstrated in mice bearing transgenes containing promoter elements from the AChR gamma and epsilon subunit genes, each coupled to a nuclear-localized beta-galactosidase (nlacZ) reporter. We show that transgene expression is stimulated by the nerve-derived inducer of AChR expression, ARIA, in myotubes cultured from gamma-nlacZ as well as epsilon-nlacZ mice. However, the expression of gamma-nlacZ, but not epsilon-nlacZ, is increased by treatment of myotubes with TTX, and the ARIA sensitivity of gamma-nlacZ is dependent on the electrical state of the myotube. Thus, the promoters of the gamma and epsilon subunit genes may integrate ARIA- and activity-dependent signals in different ways to generate their complementary patterns of expression.

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