Chick myoblast fusion in culture was investigated using prostanoid synthesis inhibitors to delay spontaneous fusion. During this delay myoblast fusion could be induced by prostaglandin E1 (PGE1), by raising extracellular potassium and by addition of carbachol. Carbachol-induced fusion, but not PGE-induced fusion, was prevented by the acetylcholine receptor blocker alpha-bungarotoxin. Fusion induced by any of these agents was prevented by the Ca channel blockers lanthanum and D600. The threshold for potassium-induced fusion was 7-8 mM; maximal fusion occurred at 16-20 mM. Low extracellular potassium inhibited spontaneous fusion. Intracellular potassium in fusion competent myoblasts was 101 m-moles/l cell. Calcium flux measurements demonstrated that high potassium increased calcium permeability in fusion-competent myoblasts. A 30-s exposure to high potassium or PGE1 was sufficient to initiate myoblast fusion. Anion-exchange inhibitors (SITS and DIDS) delayed spontaneous myoblast fusion and blocked fusion induced by PGE1 but not carbachol. Blocking the acetylcholine receptor shifted the dose-response relation for PGE-induced fusion to higher concentrations. PGE1-induced fusion required chloride ions; carbachol-induced fusion required sodium ions. Provided calcium channels were available, potassium always induced fusion. We conclude that myoblasts possess at least three, independent pathways, each of which can initiate myoblast fusion and that the PGE-activated pathway and the acetylcholine receptor-activated pathway act synergistically. We suggest that fusion competent myoblasts have a high resting membrane potential and that fusion is controlled by depolarization initiated directly (potassium), by an increase in permeability to chloride ions (PGE), or by activation of the acetylcholine receptor (carbachol); depolarization triggers a rise in calcium permeability. The consequent increase in intracellular calcium initiates myoblast fusion.

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