Agrin induces the formation of highly localized specializations on myotubes at which nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) and many other components of the postsynaptic apparatus at the vertebrate skeletal neuromuscular junction accumulate. Agrin also induces AChR tyrosine phosphorylation. Treatments that inhibit tyrosine phosphorylation prevent AChR aggregation. To examine further the relationship between tyrosine phosphorylation and receptor aggregation, we have used the technique of fluorescence recovery after photobleaching to assess the lateral mobility of AChRs and other surface proteins in mouse C2 myotubes treated with agrin or with pervanadate, a protein tyrosine phosphatase inhibitor. Agrin induced the formation of patches in C2 myotubes that stained intensely with anti-phosphotyrosine antibodies and within which AChRs were relatively immobile. Pervanadate, on the other hand, increased protein tyrosine phosphorylation throughout the myotube and caused a reduction in the mobility of diffusely distributed AChRs, without affecting the mobility of other membrane proteins. Pervanadate, like agrin, caused an increase in AChR tyrosine phosphorylation and a decrease in the rate at which AChRs could be extracted from intact myotubes by mild detergent treatment, suggesting that immobilized receptors were phosphorylated and therefore less extractable. Indeed, phosphorylated receptors were extracted from agrin-treated myotubes more slowly than nonphosphorylated receptors. AChR aggregates at developing neuromuscular junctions in embryonic rat muscles also labeled with anti-phosphotyrosine antibodies, suggesting that tyrosine phosphorylation could mediate AChR aggregation in vivo as well. Thus, agrin appears to induce AChR aggregation by creating circumscribed domains of increased protein tyrosine phosphorylation within which receptors become phosphorylated and immobilized.

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