Transcriptional activity of acetylcholine receptor subunit genes was investigated in innervated and denervated chick skeletal muscle. The sciatic nerve of 3-d-old White Leghorn chicks was sectioned unilaterally; after various intervals, nuclei were isolated from operated and sham-operated animals, and run-on assays performed. Nuclei were incubated with 32P-UTP, and total RNA was extracted and hybridized onto filters containing an excess of subunit-specific DNA. Specific transcripts were detected by autoradiography and quantitated densitometrically. A sharp increase in transcriptional activity was observed to begin approximately 1/2 d after the operation and peak 1 d later when transcriptional rates reached approximately seven-, six-, and fivefold control levels for the alpha-, delta-, and gamma-subunit genes, respectively. The specificity of the effect was ascertained by normalization to total RNA synthesis and by the demonstration that several nonreceptor genes respond differently to denervation. These results suggest that a denervation signal reaches the genome to induce receptor expression. In addition, since the increase in mRNA levels significantly exceeds what can be accounted for by increased gene activity, posttranscriptional effects are suggested.

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