Antibodies to muscle-specific proteins were used in immunofluorescence to monitor the development of skeletal muscle during mouse embryogenesis. At gestation day (g.d.) 9 a single layer of vimentin filament containing cells in the myotome domain of cervical somites begins to stain positively for myogenic proteins. The muscle-specific proteins are expressed in a specific order between g.d. 9 and 9.5. Desmin is detected first, then titin, then the muscle specific actin and myosin heavy chains, and finally nebulin. At g.d. 9.5 fibrous desmin structures are already present, while for the other myogenic proteins no structure can be detected. Some prefusion myoblasts display at g.d. 11 and 12 tiny and immature myofibrils. These reveal a periodic pattern of myosin, nebulin, and those titin epitopes known to occur at and close to the Z line. In contrast titin epitopes, which are present in mature myofibrils along the A band and at the A-I junction, are still randomly distributed. We propose, that the Z line connected structures and the A bands (myosin filaments) assemble independently, and that the known interaction of the I-Z-I brushes with the A bands occurs at a later developmental stage. After fusion of myoblasts to myotubes at g.d. 13 and 14 all titin epitopes show the myofibrillar banding pattern. The predominantly longitudinal orientation of desmin filaments seen in myoblasts and in early myotubes is transformed at g.d. 17 and 18 to distinct Z line connected striations. Vimentin, still present together with desmin in the myoblasts, is lost from the myotubes. Our results indicate that the putative elastic titin filaments act as integrators during skeletal muscle development. Some developmental aspects of eye and limb muscles are also described.

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