Rapid dispersal of clustered postsynaptic nuclei following dissociation of skeletal muscle fibers
J Exp Biol 199(Pt 11): 2359-67
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The vertebrate neuromuscular junction is a highly specialized structure containing many unique proteins and an underlying cluster of nuclei. Part of this specialization results from the expression of the genes for these proteins in nuclei clustered in the postsynaptic region. Contractile activity, as well as molecules located in the synaptic extracellular matrix (ECM), have been implicated in the induction of gene expression in these clustered nuclei. The present experiments were aimed at examining whether the presence of the synaptic ECM and presynaptic cells play a role in maintaining the clustering of the nuclei. We describe the normal distribution of nuclei clustered in the synaptic region of intact adult frog, Rana pipiens, skeletal muscle fibers and show that innervation is not required to maintain the nuclear clusters. Even after long-term (4 week) denervation, the clusters remain unchanged. Dissociation of the muscle fibers with proteases that remove ECM, Schwann cells and other satellite cells from the synaptic sites is followed by a rapid (within approximately 1.5 h) and almost complete dispersal of the clustered nuclei. Attempts to recluster the postsynaptic nuclei by the application of ECM components to muscle fibers in vitro were not successful. We propose that a factor or factors, localized in the synaptic ECM as a result of synapse formation and acting via the transmembrane or cytoplasmic domains of their respective receptors, induces the formation of a specialized cytoskeleton in the postsynaptic region that is capable of pulling in or 'trapping' nuclei. The removal of these factors from the ECM by proteases brings about the disorganization of the cytoskeleton and the freeing of the 'trapped' nuclei.