Denervation of vertebrate muscle causes an acceleration of acetylcholine receptor turnover at the neuromuscular junction. This acceleration reflects the composite behavior of two populations of receptors: "original receptors" present at the junction at the time of denervation, and "new receptors" inserted into the denervated junction to replace the original receptors as they are degraded (Levitt, T. A., and M. M. Salpeter, 1981, Nature (Lond.), 291:239-241). The present study examined the degradation rate of original receptors to determine whether reinnervation could reverse the effect of denervation. Sternomastoid muscles in adult mice were denervated by either cutting or crushing the nerve, and the nerves either allowed to regenerate or ligated to prevent regeneration. The original receptors were labeled with 125I-alpha-bungarotoxin at the time of denervation, and their degradation rate followed by gamma counting. We found that when the nerve was not allowed to regenerate, the degradation decreased from a t1/2 of approximately 8-10 d to one of approximately 3 d (as reported earlier for denervated original receptors) and remained at that half-life throughout the experiment (approximately 36 d). If the axons were allowed to regenerate (which occurred asynchronously between day 14 and day 30 after nerve cut and between day 7 and 13 after nerve crush), the accelerated degradation rate of the original receptors reverted to a t1/2 of approximately 8 d. Our data lead us to conclude that the effect of denervation on the degradation rate of original receptors can be reversed by reinnervating. The nerve can thus slow the degradation rate of receptors previously inserted into the postsynaptic membrane.

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