Agrin induces the accumulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) in the myofiber membrane at synaptic sites in vertebrate skeletal muscle and causes an increase in tyrosine phosphorylation of the AChR beta subunit. To examine further the mechanism of agrin-induced AChR phosphorylation and the relationship between changes in protein phosphorylation and AChR aggregation, the effect of the protein tyrosine phosphatase inhibitor sodium pervanadate was tested on chick myotubes in culture. Pervanadate caused an increase in the phosphotyrosine content of a variety of proteins, including the AChR. Pervanadate also prevented agrin-induced AChR aggregation and slowed the rate at which AChRs were extracted from intact myotubes by mild detergent treatment. The rate at which phosphorylation of the AChR beta subunit and receptor detergent extractability changed following pervanadate-induced phosphatase inhibition was increased by agrin, indicating that agrin activates a protein tyrosine kinase rather than inhibiting a protein tyrosine phosphatase. The present results, taken together with previous findings on the inhibition of agrin-induced AChR aggregation by protein kinase inhibitors, demonstrate that protein tyrosine phosphorylation regulates the formation and stability of AChR aggregates, apparently by strengthening the interaction between AChRs and the cytoskelton.

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