The synaptic basal lamina, a component of extracellular matrix (ECM) in the synaptic cleft at the neuromuscular junction, directs the formation of new postsynaptic specializations, including the aggregation of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs), during muscle regeneration in adult animals. Although the molecular basis of this phenomenon is unknown, it is mimicked by AChR-aggregating proteins in ECM-enriched fractions from muscle and the synapse-rich electric organ of the ray Torpedo californica. Molecules immunologically similar to these proteins are concentrated in the synaptic basal lamina at neuromuscular junctions of the ray and frog. Here we demonstrate that immunologically, chemically, and functionally similar AChR-aggregating proteins are also associated with the ECM of several other tissues in Torpedo. Monoclonal antibodies against the AChR-aggregating proteins from electric organ intensely stained neuromuscular junctions and the ventral surfaces of electrocytes, structures with a high density of AChRs. However, they also labeled many other structures which have basal laminae, including the extrajunctional perimeters of skeletal muscle fibers, smooth and cardiac muscle cells, Schwann cell sheaths in peripheral nerves, walls of some blood vessels, and epithelial basement membranes in the gut, skin, and heart. Some structures with basal laminae did not stain with the antibodies; e.g., the dorsal surfaces of electrocytes. Bands of similar molecular weight were detected by the antibodies on Western blots of extracts of ECM-enriched fractions from electric organ and several other tissues. Proteins from all tissues examined, enriched from these extracts by affinity chromatography with the monoclonal antibodies, aggregated AChRs on cultured myotubes. Thus, similar AChR-aggregating proteins are associated with the extracellular matrix of many Torpedo tissues. The broad distribution of these proteins suggests they have functions in addition to AChR aggregation.

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