The role of acetylcholine receptors in the control of chick myoblast fusion in culture has been explored. Spontaneous fusion of myoblasts was inhibited by the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor antagonists alpha-bungarotoxin, Naja naja toxin and monoclonal antibody mcAb 5.5. The muscarinic antagonists QNB and n-methyl scopolamine were without effect. Atropine had no effect below 1 microM, where it blocks muscarinic receptors; at higher concentrations, when it blocks nicotinic receptors also, atropine inhibited myoblast fusion. The inhibitions imposed by acetylcholine receptor antagonists lasted for approximately 12 h; fusion stimulated by other endogenous substances then took over. The inhibition was limited to myoblast fusion. The increases in cell number, DNA content, the level of creatine phosphokinase activity (both total and muscle-specific isozyme) and the appearance of heavy chain myosin, which accompany muscle differentiation, followed a normal time course. Pre-fusion myoblasts, fusing myoblasts, and young myotubes specifically bound labeled alpha-bungarotoxin, indicating the presence of acetylcholine receptors. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist, carbachol, induced uptake of [14C]Guanidinium through the acetylcholine receptor. Myoblasts, aligned myoblasts and young myotubes expressed the synthetic enzyme Choline acetyltransferase and stained positively with antibodies against acetylcholine. The appearance of ChAT activity in myogenic cultures was prevented by treatment with BUDR; nonmyogenic cells in the cultures expressed ChAT at a level which was too low to account for the activity in myogenic cultures. We conclude that activation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is part of the mechanism controlling spontaneous myoblast fusion and that myoblasts synthesize an endogenous, fusion-inducing agent that activates the nicotinic ACh receptor.

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