The fine structure of the developing neuromuscular junction of rat intercostal muscle has been studied from 16 days in utero to 10 days postpartum. At 16 days, neuromuscular relations consist of close membrane apposition between clusters of axons and groups of myotubes. Focal electron-opaque membrane specializations more intimately connect axon and myotube membranes to each other. What relation these focal contacts bear to future motor endplates is undetermined. The presence of a group of axons lying within a depression in a myotube wall and local thickening of myotube membranes with some overlying basal lamina indicates primitive motor endplate differentiation. At 18 days, large myotubes surrounded by new generations of small muscle cells occur in groups. Clusters of terminal axon sprouts mutually innervate large myotubes and adjacent small muscle cells within the groups. Nerve is separated from muscle plasma membranes by synaptic gaps partially filled by basal lamina. The plasma membranes of large myotubes, where innervated, simulate postsynaptic membranes. At birth, intercostal muscle is composed of separate myofibers. Soleplate nuclei arise coincident with the peripheral migration of myofiber nuclei. A possible source of soleplate nuclei from lateral fusion of small cells' neighboring areas of innervation is suspected but not proven. Adjacent large and small myofibers are mutually innervated by terminal axon networks contained within single Schwann cells. Primary and secondary synaptic clefts are rudimentary. By 10 days, some differentiating motor endplates simulate endplates of mature muscle. Processes of Schwann cells cover primary synaptic clefts. Axon sprouts lie within the primary clefts and are separated from each other. Specific neural control over individual myofibers may occur after neural processes are segregated in this manner.

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