The control of gene expression during terminal myogenesis was explored in heterokaryons between differentiated and undifferentiated myogenic cells by analyzing the formation of species specific myosin light chains of chick and rat skeletal muscle. Dividing L6 rat myoblasts served as the biochemically undifferentiated parent. The differentiated parental cells were mononucleated muscle cells (myocytes) that were obtained from primary cultures of embryonic chick thigh muscle by blocking myotube formation with EGTA and later incubating the postimitotic cells in cytochalasin B. Heterokaryons were isolated by the selective rescue of fusion products between cells previously treated with lethal doses of different cell poisons. 95-99% pure populations of heterokaryons formed between undifferentiated rat myoblasts and differentiated chick myocytes were obtained. The cells were labeled with [35S]methionine, and whole cell extracts were analyzed on two-dimensional polyacrylamide gels. These heterokaryons synthesize the light chain of chick myosin and both embryonic and adult light chains of rat skeletal myosin. Control homokaryons formed by fusing undifferentiated cells to themselves did not synthesize skeletal myosin light chains. Control heterokaryons formed between undifferentiated rat myoblasts and chick fibroblasts also failed to synthesize myosin light chains. These results indicate that differentiated chick muscle cells provide some factor that induces L6 myoblasts to synthesize rat myosin light chains. This system provides a model for investigating the processes by which differentiated cell functions are induced.

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