The clustering of acetylcholine receptors (AChR) in the postsynaptic membrane is an early event in the formation of the neuromuscular junction. The mechanism of clustering is still unknown, but is generally believed to be mediated by the postsynaptic cytoskeleton. We have identified an unusual isoform of beta-spectrin which colocalizes with AChR in AChR clusters isolated from rat myotubes in vitro. A related antigen is present postsynaptically at the neuromuscular junction of the rat. Immunoprecipitation, peptide mapping and immunofluorescence show that the beta-spectrin in AChR clusters resembles but is distinct from the beta-spectrin of human erythrocytes. alpha-Spectrin appears to be absent from AChR clusters. Semiquantitative immunofluorescence techniques indicate that there are from two to seven beta-spectrin molecules present for every clustered AChR, the higher values being obtained from rapidly prepared clusters, the lower values from clusters that require several minutes or more for isolation. Upon incubation of isolated AChR clusters for 1 h at room temperature, beta-spectrin is slowly depleted and the AChR redistribute into microaggregates. The beta-spectrin that remains associated with the myotube membrane is concentrated at these microaggregates. beta-Spectrin is quantitatively lost from clusters upon digestion with chymotrypsin, which causes AChR to redistribute in the plane of the membrane. These results suggest that AChR in clusters is closely linked to an unusual isoform of beta-spectrin.

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