The acetylcholine receptor (AChR)-associated protein rapsyn is essential for neuromuscular synapse formation and clustering of AChRs, but its mode of action remains unclear. We have investigated whether agrin, a key nerve-derived synaptogenic factor, influences rapsyn-AChR interactions and how this affects clustering and cytoskeletal linkage of AChRs. By precipitating AChRs and probing for associated rapsyn, we found that in denervated diaphragm rapsyn associates with synaptic as well as with extrasynaptic AChRs showing that rapsyn interacts with unclustered AChRs in vivo. Interestingly, synaptic AChRs are associated with more rapsyn suggesting that clustering of AChRs may require increased interaction with rapsyn. In similar experiments in cultured myotubes, rapsyn interacted with intracellular AChRs and with unclustered AChRs at the cell surface, although surface interactions are much more prominent. Remarkably, agrin induces recruitment of additional rapsyn to surface AChRs and clustering of AChRs independently of the secretory pathway. This agrin-induced increase in rapsyn-AChR interaction strongly correlates with clustering, because staurosporine and herbimycin blocked both the increase and clustering. Conversely, laminin and calcium induced both increased rapsyn-AChR interaction and AChR clustering. Finally, time course experiments revealed that the agrin-induced increase occurs with AChRs that become cytoskeletally linked, and that this precedes receptor clustering. Thus, we propose that neural agrin controls postsynaptic aggregation of the AChR by enhancing rapsyn interaction with surface AChRs and inducing cytoskeletal anchoring and that this is an important precursor step for AChR clustering.
ASJC Scopus subject areas