Acetylcholine receptor aggregation at nerve-muscle contacts in mammalian cultures: Induction by ventral spinal cord neurons is specific to axons

E. K. Dutton, C. S. Uhm, S. J. Samuelsson, A. E. Schaffner, S. C. Fitzgerald, M. P. Daniels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


We used a novel mammalian coculture system to study ACh receptor (AChR) redistribution and synaptic structure at nerve-muscle contacts. Ventral spinal cord (VSC) neurons were plated on cultures containing extensive myotubes but few fibroblasts. Neurite-induced redistribution of AChRs occurred within 6 hr after plating neurons and was maximal between 36-48 hr. This AChR redistribution appeared in two patterns: (1) AChR density at sites directly apposed to the neurite where neurites crossed preexisting AChR patches was sharply reduced, (2) Newly aggregated AChRs formed swaths lateral to the neurite path. VSC neurons induced more AChR aggregation than hippocampal, superior cervical ganglion and dorsal root ganglion neurons. The 43 and 58 kDa postsynaptic proteins were colocalized with AChR-enriched domains in all VSC neurite-induced aggregates whereas the colocalization of laminin was variable. Electron microscopy of regions with neurite-induced AChR aggregation showed postsynaptic membrane specializations characteristic of developing synapses and, in older cultures, features of more mature synaptic structure. Thus, the coculture system is useful for studying early stages of neuromuscular junction (NMJ) formation. Neurites in these cocultures were identified as axons or dendrites by morphological criteria and by their immunoreactivity for synaptophysin and phosphorylated heavy neurofilament subunits or for microtubule associated protein 2 (MAP2), respectively. Axons showed a 10-fold higher induction of AChR aggregation than did dendrites. Thus, at least one essential signaling molecule necessary for the induction of AChR aggregation at sites of interaction with muscle appears to be expressed in a polarized fashion in developing VSC neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7401-7416
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1995 Nov
Externally publishedYes


  • ACh receptor
  • axon
  • cell culture
  • dendrite
  • neuromuscular junction
  • skeletal muscle
  • spinal cord neuron
  • synapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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