A scanning electron microscope (SEM) autoradiographic technique was calibrated and used to determine the site density of acetylcholine receptors within 250 micron of the neuromuscular junction in innervated as well as 3- and 10-d denervated sternomastoid muscle of the mouse. In all these groups sharp gradients of receptor site density are seen around the endplates in the first 2-7 micron, continuing less sharply to between 25 and 50 micron. Beyond 50 micron (to 250 micron) a spatial density gradient is present 3 d after denervation, but none exist by 10 d. These results suggest that the postdenervation steady-state extrajunctional receptor site density is reached sooner near the junction than away from the junction. The usefulness of SEM autoradiography to study the expression and distribution of membrane molecules at high resolution is demonstrated.

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