We have investigated the role of the immunoglobulin-binding protein (BiP) in the folding and assembly of subunits of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) in COS cells and in C2 muscle cells. Immunoprecipitation in COS cells showed that alpha, beta, and delta subunits are associated with BiP. In the case of the alpha subunit, which first folds to acquire toxin-binding activity and is then assembled with the other subunits to form the AChR, BiP was associated only with a form that is unassembled and does not bind alpha-bungarotoxin. Similar results were found in C2 cells. Although the alpha and beta subunits of the AChR are minor membrane proteins in C2 cells, they were prominent among the proteins immunoprecipitated by antibodies to BiP, suggesting that BiP could play a role in their maturation or folding. In pulse-chase experiments in C2 cells, however, labeled alpha subunit formed a stable complex with BiP that was first detected after most of the alpha subunit had acquired toxin-binding activity and whose amount continued to increase for several hours. These kinetics are not compatible with a role for the BiP complex in the folding or assembly pathway of the AChR, and suggest that BiP is associated with a misfolded form of the subunit that is slowly degraded.

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