Axons regenerate to reinnervate denervated skeletal muscle fibers precisely at original synaptic sites, and they differentiate into nerve terminals where they contact muscle fibers. The aim of this study was to determine the location of factors that influence the growth and differentiation of the regenerating axons. We damaged and denervated frog muscles, causing myofibers and nerve terminals to degenerate, and then irradiated the animals to prevent regeneration of myofibers. The sheath of basal lamina (BL) that surrounds each myofiber survives these treatments, and original synaptic sites on BL can be recognized by several histological criteria after nerve terminals and muscle cells have been completely removed. Axons regenerate into the region of damage within 2 wk. They contact surviving BL almost exclusively at original synaptic sites; thus, factors that guide the axon's growth are present at synaptic sites and stably maintained outside of the myofiber. Portions of axons that contact the BL acquire active zones and accumulations of synaptic vesicles; thus by morphological criteria they differentiate into nerve terminals even though their postsynaptic targets, the myofibers, are absent. Within the terminals, the synaptic organelles line up opposite periodic specializations in the myofiber's BL, demonstrating that components associated with the BL play a role in organizing the differentiation of the nerve terminal.

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