Clones of differentiation-defective myoblasts were isolated by selecting clones of L6 rat myoblasts that did not form myotubes under differentiation-stimulating conditions. Rat skeletal myosin light chain synthesis was induced in heterokaryons formed by fusing these defective myoblasts to differentiated chick skeletal myocytes. This indicates that the structural gene for this muscle protein was still responsive to chick inducing factors and that the defective myoblasts were not producing large quantities of molecules that dominantly suppressed the expression of differentiated functions. The regulation of the decision to differentiate was then examined in hybrids between differentiation-defective myoblasts and differentiation-competent myoblasts. Staining with antimyosin antibodies showed that the defective myoblasts and homotypic hybrids formed by fusing defective myoblasts to themselves could in fact differentiate, but did so more than a thousand times less frequently than the 64% differentiation achieved by competent L6 myoblasts or homotypic competent X competent L6 hybrids. Heterotypic hybrids between differentiation-defective myoblasts and competent L6 cells exhibited an intermediate behavior of approximately 1% differentiation. A theoretical model for the regulation of the commitment to terminal differentiation is proposed that could explain these results by invoking the need to achieve threshold levels of secondary inducing molecules in response to differentiation-stimulating conditions. This model helps explain many of the stochastic aspects of cell differentiation.

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