Levels of the neural cell adhesion molecule N-CAM in muscle are regulated in parallel with the susceptibility of muscle to innervation: N-CAM is abundant on the surface of early embryonic myotubes, declines in level as development proceeds, reappears when adult muscles are denervated or paralyzed, and is lost after reinnervation (Covault, J., and J. R. Sanes, 1985, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 82:4544-4548). Here we used immunocytochemical methods to compare this pattern of expression with those of several other molecules known to be involved in cellular adhesion. Laminin, fibronectin, and a basal lamina-associated heparan sulfate proteoglycan accumulate on embryonic myotubes after synapse formation, and their levels change little after denervation. L1, J1, nerve growth factor-inducible large external protein, uvomorulin, and a carbohydrate epitope (L2/HNK-1) shared by several adhesion molecules are undetectable on the surface of embryonic, perinatal, adult, or denervated adult muscle fibers. Thus, of the molecules tested, only N-CAM appears on the surface of muscle cells in parallel with the ability of the muscle cell surface to accept synapses. However, four antigens--N-CAM, J1, fibronectin, and a heparan sulfate proteoglycan--accumulate in interstitial spaces near denervated synaptic sites; regenerating axons traverse these spaces as they preferentially reinnervate original synaptic sites. Of particular interest is J1, antibodies to which block adhesion of central neurons to astrocytes (Kruse, J., G. Keihauer, A. Faissner, R. Timpl, and M. Schachner, 1985, Nature (Lond.), 316:146-148). J1 is associated with collagen and other fibrils in muscle and thus may be an extracellular matrix molecule employed in both the central and peripheral nervous systems.

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