During the development of the neuromuscular junction, acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) become clustered in the postsynaptic membrane in response to innervation. In vitro, several non-neuronal stimuli can also induce the formation of AChR clusters. DC electric field (E field) is one of them. When cultured Xenopus muscle cells are exposed to an E field of 5-10 V/cm, AChRs become clustered along the cathode-facing edge of the cells within 2 h. Recent studies have suggested the involvement of tyrosine kinase activation in the action of several AChR clustering stimuli, including nerve, polymer beads, and agrin. We thus examined the role of tyrosine phosphorylation in E field-induced AChR clustering. An antibody against phosphotyrosine (PY) was used to examine the localization of PY-containing proteins in E field-treated muscle cells. We found that anti-PY staining was colocalized with AChR clusters along the cathodal edge of the cells. In fact, cathodal PY staining could be detected before the first appearance of AChR clusters. When cultures were subjected to E fields in the presence of a tyrosine kinase inhibitor, tyrphostin RG-50864, cathodal AChR clustering was abolished with a half maximal inhibitory dosage of 50 microM. An inactive form of tyrphostin (RG-50862) had no effect on the field-induced clustering. These data suggest that the activation of tyrosine kinases is an essential step in E field-induced AChR clustering. Thus, the actions of several disparate stimuli for AChR clustering seem to converge to a common signal transduction mechanism based on tyrosine phosphorylation at the molecular level.

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