The developmental regulation of myoblasts committed to fast, mixed fast/slow, and slow myogenic cell lineages was determined by analyzing myotube formation in high density and clonal cultures of myoblasts isolated from chicken and quail embryos of different ages. To identify cells of different myogenic lineages, myotubes were analyzed for content of fast and slow classes of myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoforms by immunocytochemistry and immunoblotting using specific monoclonal antibodies. Myoblasts from the hindlimb bud, forelimb bud, trunk, and pectoral regions of the early chicken embryo and hindlimb bud of the early quail embryo (days 3-6 in ovo) were committed to three distinct lineages with 60-90% of the myoblasts in the fast lineage, 10-40% in the mixed fast/slow lineage, and 0-3% in the slow lineage depending on the age and species of the myoblast donor. In contrast, 99-100% of the myoblasts in the later embryos (days 9-12 in ovo) were in the fast lineage. Serial subculturing from a single myoblast demonstrated that commitment to a particular lineage was stably inherited for over 30 cell doublings. When myoblasts from embryos of the same age were cultured, the percentage of muscle colonies of the fast, fast/slow, and slow types that formed in clonal cultures was the same as the percentage of myotubes of each of these types that formed in high density cultures, indicating that intercellular contact between myoblasts of different lineages did not affect the type of myotube formed. An analysis in vivo showed that three types of primary myotubes--fast, fast/slow, and slow--were also found in the chicken thigh at day 7 in ovo and that synthesis of both the fast and slow classes of MHC isoforms was concomitant with the formation of primary myotubes. On the basis of these results, we propose that in the avian embryo, there is an early phase of muscle fiber formation in which primary myotubes with differing MHC contents are formed from myoblasts committed to three intrinsically different primary myogenic lineages independent of innervation and a later phase in which secondary myotubes are formed from myoblasts in a single, secondary myogenic lineage with maturation and maintenance of fiber diversity dependent on innervation.

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