Aggregation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) at sites of nerve-muscle contact is one of the earliest events to occur during the development of the neuromuscular junction. The stimulus presented to the muscle by nerve and the mechanisms underlying postsynaptic differentiation are not known. The purpose of this study was to examine the distribution of phosphotyrosine (PY)-containing proteins in cultured Xenopus muscle cells in response to AChR clustering stimuli. Results demonstrated a distinct accumulation of PY at AChR clusters induced by several stimuli, including nerve, the culture substratum, and polystyrene microbeads. AChR microclusters formed by external cross-linking did not show PY colocalization, implying that the accumulation of PY in response to clustering stimuli was not due to the aggregation of basally phosphorylated AChRs. A semi-quantitative determination of the time course for development of PY labeling at bead contacts revealed early PY accumulation within 15 min of contact before significant AChR aggregation. At later stages (within 15 h), the AChR signal came to approximate the PY signal. We have reported the inhibition of bead-induced AChR clustering in response to beads by a tyrphostin tyrosine kinase inhibitor (RG50864) (Peng, H. B., L. P. Baker, and Q. Chen. 1991. Neuron. 6:237-246). RG50864 also inhibited PY accumulation at bead contacts, providing evidence for tyrosine kinase activation in response to the bead stimulus. These results suggest that tyrosine phosphorylation may play an important role in the generative stages of cluster formation, and may involve protein(s) other than or in addition to AChRs.

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