When day 1 cultures of chick myogenic cells were exposed to the mutagenic alkylating agent ethyl methanesulfonate (EMS) for 3 d, 80% of the replicating cells were killed, but postmitotic myoblasts survived. The myoblasts fused to form unusual multinucleated "myosheets": extraordinarily wide, flattened structures that were devoid of myofibrils but displayed extensive, submembranous stress fiber-like structures (SFLS). Immunoblots of the myosheets indicated that the carcinogen blocked the synthesis and accumulation of the myofibrillar myosin isoforms but not that of the cytoplasmic myosin isoform. When removed from EMS, widely spaced nascent myofibrils gradually emerged in the myosheets after 3 d. Striking co-localization of fluorescent reagents that stained SFLS and those that specifically stained myofibrils was observed for the next 2 d. By both immunofluorescence and electron microscopy, individual nascent myofibrils appeared to be part of, or juxtaposed to, preexisting individual SFLS. By day 6, all SFLS had disappeared, and the definitive myofibrils were displaced from their submembranous site into the interior of the myosheet. Immunoblots from recovering myosheets demonstrated a temporal correlation between the appearance of the myofibrillar myosin isoforms and the assembly of thick filaments. The assembly of definitive myofibrils did not appear to involve desmin intermediate filaments, but a striking aggregation of sarcoplasmic reticulum elements was seen at the level of each I-Z-band. Our findings suggest that SFLS in the EMS myosheets function as early, transitory assembly sites for nascent myofibrils.

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