The majority of skeletal muscle fibers are generated through the process of secondary myogenesis. Cell adhesion molecules such as NCAM are thought to be intricately involved in the cell-cell interactions between developing secondary and primary myotubes. During secondary myogenesis, the expression of NCAM in skeletal muscle is under strict spatial and temporal control. To investigate the role of NCAM in the regulation of primary-secondary myotube interactions and muscle fusion in vivo, we have examined muscle development in transgenic mice expressing the 125-kD muscle-specific, glycosylphosphatidylinositol-anchored isoform of human NCAM, under the control of a human skeletal muscle alpha-actin promoter that is active from about embryonic day 15 onward. Analysis of developing muscle from transgenic animals revealed a significantly lower number of myofibers encased by basal lamina at postnatal day 1 compared with nontransgenic littermates, although the total number of developing myofibers was similar. An increase in muscle fiber size and decreased numbers of VCAM-1-positive secondary myoblasts at postnatal day 1 was also found, indicating enhanced secondary myoblast fusion in the transgenic animals. There was also a significant decrease in myofiber number but no increase in overall muscle size in adult transgenic animals; other measurements such as the number of nuclei per fiber and the size of individual muscle fibers were significantly increased, again suggesting increased secondary myoblast fusion. Thus the level of NCAM in the sarcolemma is a key regulator of cell-cell interactions occurring during secondary myogenesis in vivo and fulfills the prediction derived from transfection studies in vitro that the 125-kD NCAM isoform can enhance myoblast fusion.

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