We have previously reported the identification of a distinct myosin heavy chain (MyHC) isoform in a major subpopulation of rat skeletal muscle fibers, referred to as 2X fibers (Schiaffino, S., L. Gorza, S. Sartore, L. Saggin, M. Vianello, K. Gundersen, and T. Lømo. 1989. J. Muscle Res. Cell Motil. 10:197-205). However, it was not known whether 2X-MyHC is the product of posttranslational modification of other MyHCs or is coded by a distinct mRNA. We report here the isolation and characterization of cDNAs coding a MyHC isoform that is expressed in type 2X skeletal muscle fibers. 2X-MyHC transcripts differ from other MyHC transcripts in their restriction map and 3' end sequence and are thus derived from a distinct gene. In situ hybridization analyses show that 2X-MyHC transcripts are expressed at high levels in the diaphragm and fast hindlimb muscles and can be coexpressed either with 2B- or 2A-MyHC transcripts in a number of fibers. At the single fiber level the distribution of each MyHC mRNA closely matches that of the corresponding protein, determined by specific antibodies on serial sections. In hindlimb muscles 2X-, 2A-, and 2B-MyHC transcripts are first detected by postnatal day 2-5 and display from the earliest stages a distinct pattern of distribution in different muscles and different fibers. The emergence of type 2 MyHC isoforms thus defines a distinct neonatal phase of fiber type differentiation during muscle development. The functional significance of MyHC isoforms is discussed with particular reference to the velocity of shortening of skeletal muscle fibers.

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