To analyze the formation of neuromuscular junctions, mouse pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells were differentiated via embryoid bodies into skeletal muscle and neuronal cells. The developmentally controlled expression of skeletal muscle-specific genes coding for myf5, myogenin, myoD and myf6, α1 subunit of the L-type calcium channel, cell adhesion molecule M- cadherin, and neuron-specific genes encoding the 68-, 160-, and 200-kDa neurofilament proteins, synaptic vesicle protein synaptophysin, brain- specific proteoglycan neurocan, and microtubule-associated protein tau was demonstrated by RTPCR analysis. In addition, genes specifically expressed at neuromuscular junctions, the γ- and ε-subunits of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) and the extracellular matrix protein S- laminin, were found. At the terminal differentiation stage characterized by the formation of multinucleated spontaneously contracting myotubes, the myogenic regulatory gene myf6 and the AChR ε-subunit gene, both specifically expressed in mature adult skeletal muscle, were found to be coexpressed. Only the terminally differentiated myotubes showed a clustering of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChR) and a colocalization with agrin and synaptophysin. The formation of AChRs was also demonstrated on a functional level by using the patch clamp technique. Taken together, our results showed that during ES cell differentiation in vitro neuron- and muscle-specific genes are expressed in a developmentally controlled manner, resulting in the formation of postsynaptic-like membranes. Thus, the embryonic stem cell differentiation model will be helpful for studying cellular interactions at neuromuscular junctions by 'loss of function' analysis in vitro.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)