Dystrophin-related and associated proteins are important for the formation and maintenance of the mammalian neuromuscular junction. Initial studies in the electric organ of Torpedo californica showed that the dystrophin-related protein dystrobrevin (87K) co-purifies with the acetylcholine receptors and other postsynaptic proteins. Dystrobrevin is also a major phosphotyrosine-containing protein in the postsynaptic membrane. Since inhibitors of tyrosine protein phosphorylation block acetylcholine receptor clustering in cultured muscle cells, we examined the role of alpha-dystrobrevin during synapse formation and in response to agrin. Using specific antibodies, we show that C2 myoblasts and early myotubes only produce alpha-dystrobrevin-1, the mammalian orthologue of Torpedo dystrobrevin, whereas mature skeletal muscle expresses three distinct alpha-dystrobrevin isoforms. In myotubes, alpha-dystrobrevin-1 is found on the cell surface and also in acetylcholine receptor-rich domains. Following agrin stimulation, alpha-dystrobrevin-1 becomes re-localised beneath the cell surface into macroclusters that contain acetylcholine receptors and another dystrophin-related protein, utrophin. This redistribution is not associated with tyrosine phosphorylation of alpha-dystrobrevin-1 by agrin. Furthermore, we show that alpha-dystrobrevin-1 is associated with both utrophin in C2 cells and dystrophin in mature skeletal muscle. Thus alpha-dystrobrevin-1 is a component of two protein complexes in muscle, one with utrophin at the neuromuscular junction and the other with dystrophin at the sarcolemma. These results indicate that alpha-dystrobrevin-1 is not involved in the phosphorylation-dependent, early stages of receptor clustering, but rather in the stabilisation and maturation of clusters, possibly via an interaction with utrophin.

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