Microtubule-associated protein 4 (MAP4) transcripts vary in different mouse tissues, with striated muscle (skeletal and cardiac) expressing 8- and 9-kb transcripts preferentially to the more widely distributed 5.5- and 6.5-kb transcripts (West, R. W., Tenbarge, K. M. and Olmsted, J. B. (1991). J. Biol. Chem. 266, 21886–21896). Cloning of the sequence unique to the muscle transcripts demonstrated that these mRNAs vary from the more ubiquitous ones by a single 3.2-kb coding region insertion within the projection domain of MAP4. During differentiation of the myogenic cell line, C2C12, muscle-specific MAP4 transcripts appear within 24 hours of growth in differentiation medium, and a larger MAP4 isotype (350 X 10(3) Mr) accumulates to high levels by 48 hours of differentiation. In situ hybridization analyses of transcript distribution in mouse embryos demonstrated that muscle-specific transcripts appear early in myogenesis. To block the expression of the muscle-specific MAP4, stable lines of C2C12 were generated bearing an antisense construct with the muscle-specific MAP4 sequence. Myoblast growth was unaffected whereas myotube formation was severely perturbed. Fusion occurred in the absence of the muscle MAP4 isotype, but the multinucleate syncytia were short and apolar, microtubules were disorganized and normal anisotropic myofibrils were absent. The patterns of expression of the muscle-specific transcripts and the antisense experiments indicated that this unique structural form of MAP4 plays a critical role in the formation and maintenance of muscle.

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