Terminal cell differentiation in a variety of model systems is inhibited by the thymidine analogue 5-bromodeoxyuridine (BUdR). We investigated the mode of action of BUdR by forming heterokaryons between undifferentiated BUdR-blocked rat myoblasts and differentiated chick skeletal myocytes. We analyzed newly synthesized proteins on two-dimensional polyacrylamide gels. The induction of rat skeletal myosin light-chain synthesis was reduced fivefold, as compared with controls, when chick myocytes were fused to BUdR-blocked rat myoblasts. This indicates that plasma membrane effects cannot be the proximate cause for the inhibition of myogenesis by BUdR, since BUdR is able to block the effect of chick inducing factors even when a differentiated chick myocyte is in direct cytoplasmic continuity with the BUdR-blocked rat nucleus. The observation that chick cells required an 80% substitution of BUdR for thymidine to block myogenesis, whereas L6 rat myoblasts required only a 20% substitution led to a hypothesis involving a DNA-mediated action of BUdR. This model yielded three testable predictions: (a) putative chick inducing molecules should be present in limiting quantities, (b) exploiting gene-dosage effects to increase the quantity of putative chick inducing factors might overcome the inhibition produced in the rat myoblasts by a 35% BUdR for thymidine substitution, and (c) these gene-dosage effects should be abolished by increasing the level of BUdR substitution in the rat myoblast to 60-80%. All three of these predictions have been verified, providing strong indirect evidence that the inhibition of myogenesis produced by BUdR is a direct result of its incorporation into cellular DNA.

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