To identify mechanisms that regulate the deposition of the junctional basal lamina during synaptogenesis, immunocytochemical experiments were carried out on cultured nerve and muscle cells derived from Xenopus laevis embryos. In some experiments successive observations were made on individual muscle cells after pulse-labeling with a fluorescent monoclonal antibody specific for a basal lamina proteoglycan. In others, old and new proteoglycan molecules were differentially labeled with antibody conjugated to contrasting fluorochromes. These observations revealed that surface deposits of antibody-labeled proteoglycan remain morphologically stable for several days on developing muscle cells. Over the same period, however, new sites of proteoglycan accumulation formed that contained primarily those antigenic sites recently exposed at the cell surface. When muscle cells became innervated by cholinergic neurites, new proteoglycan accumulations were induced at the developing neuromuscular junctions, and these too were composed almost exclusively of recently deposited antigen. In older muscle cultures, where many cells possessed relatively high background concentrations of antigen over their surfaces, developing neuromuscular junctions initially showed a markedly reduced proteoglycan site-density compared with the adjacent, extrajunctional muscle surface. Much of this perineural region eventually became filled with dense, nerve induced proteoglycan plaques at later stages of synapse development. Motoneurons thus appear to have two, superficially paradoxical effects on muscle basal lamina organization. They first cause the removal of any existing, extrajunctional proteoglycan from the path of cell contact, and then induce the deposition of dense plaques of recently synthesized proteoglycan within the developing junctional basal lamina. This observation suggests that the proteolytic enzyme systems that have already been implicated in tissue remodeling may also contribute to the inductive interaction between nerve and muscle cells during synaptogenesis.

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