Acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) mediate synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction, and structural and functional analysis has assigned distinct functions to the fetal (alpha2beta(gamma)delta) and adult types of AChR (alpha2beta(epsilon)delta). Mice lacking the epsilon-subunit gene die prematurely, showing that the adult type is essential for maintenance of neuromuscular synapses in adult muscle. It has been suggested that the fetally and neonatally expressed AChRs are crucial for muscle differentiation and for the formation of the neuromuscular synapses. Here, we show that substitution of the fetal-type AChR with an adult-type AChR preserves myoblast fusion, muscle and end-plate differentiation, whereas it substantially alters the innervation pattern of muscle by the motor nerve. Mutant mice form functional neuromuscular synapses outside the central, narrow end-plate band region in the diaphragm, with synapses scattered over a wider muscle territory. We suggest that one function of the fetal type of AChR is to ensure an orderly innervation pattern of skeletal muscle.
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