The postsynaptic membrane of the neuromuscular junction contains a myristoylated 43-kD protein (43k) that is closely associated with the cytoplasmic face of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR)-rich plasma membrane. Previously, we described fibroblast cell lines expressing recombinant AChRs. Transfection of these cell lines with 43k was necessary and sufficient for reorganization of AChR into discrete 43k-rich plasma membrane domains (Phillips, W. D., C. Kopta, P. Blount, P. D. Gardner, J. H. Steinbach, and J. P. Merlie. 1991. Science (Wash. DC). 251:568-570). Here we demonstrate the utility of this expression system for the study of 43k function by site-directed mutagenesis. Substitution of a termination codon for Asp254 produced a truncated (28-kD) protein that associated poorly with the cell membrane. The conversion of Gly2 to Ala2, to preclude NH2-terminal myristoylation, reduced the frequency with which 43k formed plasma membrane domains by threefold, but did not eliminate the aggregation of AChRs at these domains. Since both NH2 and COOH-termini seemed important for association of 43k with the plasma membrane, a deletion mutant was constructed in which the codon Gln15 was fused in-frame to Ile255 to create a 19-kD protein. This mutated protein formed 43k-rich plasma membrane domains at wild-type frequency, but the domains failed to aggregate AChRs, suggesting that the central part of the 43k polypeptide may be involved in AChR aggregation. Our results suggest that membrane association and AChR interactions are separable functions of the 43k molecule.

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