The regulation of skeletal muscle genes was examined in heterokaryons formed by fusing differentiated chick skeletal myocytes to four different rat neural cell lines. Highly enriched populations of heterokaryons isolated using irreversible biochemical inhibitors were labeled with [35S]methionine and analyzed on two-dimensional gels. Rat skeletal myosin light chains were induced in three of the four cell combinations. The one exception, the S-20 cholinergic cell line, not only failed to synthesize rat muscle proteins but also suppressed chick myogenic functions. Experiments with heterokaryons between chick myocytes and cells from whole embryonic rat brain cultures demonstrated that rat skeletal myosin light chains are inducible in normal diploid neural cells as well as in established neural cell lines. In contrast, dividing cell hybrids between rat myoblasts and rat glial cells were nonmyogenic. These results demonstrate that although neural cells may contain factors that prevent the decision to differentiate along myogenic lines in cell hybrids, most neural cell lines do not dominantly suppress the expression of muscle structural genes in heterokaryons. Furthermore, the skeletal myosin light chain genes in most neural cell lines are regulated by a mechanism that permits them to respond to putative chick skeletal myocyte-inducing factors. The "open" state of these myogenic genes may explain many of the reports of apparent "transdifferentiation" to muscle in neural cultures and neural tumors.

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