After skeletal muscle is denervated, fibroblasts near neuromuscular junctions proliferate more than fibroblasts distant from synaptic sites, and they accumulate adhesive molecules such as tenascin (Gatchalian, C. L., M. Schachner, and J. R. Sanes. 1989. J. Cell Biol. 108:1873-1890). This response could reflect signals that arise perisynaptically after denervation, preexisting differences between perisynaptic and extrasynaptic fibroblasts, or both. Here, we describe a line of transgenic mice in which patterns of transgene expression provide direct evidence for differences between perisynaptic and extrasynaptic fibroblasts in normal muscle. Transgenic mice were generated using regulatory elements from a major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I gene linked to the Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase (lacZ) gene. Expression of lacZ was detected histochemically. In each of eight lines, lacZ was detected in different subsets of cells, none of which included lymphocytes. In contrast, endogenous MHC is expressed in most tissues and at high levels in lymphocytes. Thus, the MHC gene sequences appeared inactive in the transgene, and lacZ expression was apparently controlled by genomic regulatory elements that were specific for the insertion site. In one line, cells close to the neuromuscular junction were lacZ positive in embryonic and young postnatal mice. Electron microscopy identified these cells as fibroblasts and Schwann cells associated with motor nerve terminals, as well as endoneurial fibroblasts, perineurial cells, and Schwann cells in the distal branches of motor nerves. No intramuscular cells greater than 200 microns from synaptic sites were lacZ positive. These results indicate that there are molecular differences between perisynaptic and extrasynaptic fibroblasts even in normal muscle and that diverse perisynaptic cell types share a specific pattern of gene expression.

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