The acetylcholine receptor (AChR) clusters of cultured rat myotubes contain two distinct, interdigitating, membrane domains, one enriched in AChR, the other poor in AChR but associated with sites of myotube-substrate contact (Bloch, R.J., and B. Geiger, 1980, Cell, 21:25-35). We have used two cholesterol-specific cytochemical probes, saponin and filipin, to investigate the lipid nature of these membrane domains. When studied with freeze-fracture electron microscopy or fluorescence microscopy, these reagents reacted moderately and preferentially with the AChR-rich domains of AChR clusters. Little or no reaction with the membrane in "contact" domains was seen. In contrast, membrane regions surrounding the AChR clusters reacted extensively with filipin. These results suggest that, in rat myotubes, the composition or the state of the lipids differs between the two membrane domains of the AChR clusters, and between clusters and surrounding membrane. In chick myotubes, AChR clusters do not appear to react with filipin or saponin, although surrounding membrane reacts extensively with these reagents.

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