Previous reports on skeletal muscle myogenesis have shown that postmitotic spindle-shaped myoblasts express muscle-specific proteins, some of which are organized into nascent myofibrils. However, we show that, in skeletal muscle cultures derived from 12-day chick embryos, by 6 h after plating the predominant mononucleated cell type that expresses muscle-specific proteins is a round cell. These round myoblasts appear to precede spindle-shaped myoblasts in development, since the latter are more abundant in later cultures and contain larger amounts of muscle proteins and more highly organized myofibrils. By double immunofluorescence microscopy using antibodies specific for the muscle proteins titin, myosin heavy chain (MHC) and zeugmatin we find that 18 h after plating approximately 20% of the round myoblasts that are titin-positive are negative for myofibrillar MHC and zeugmatin. On the other hand, all spindle-shaped myocytes that are positive for titin are also positive for myofibrillar MHC and zeugmatin. These results suggest that titin expression precedes that of myofibrillar MHC and zeugmatin in the non-synchronized round myoblasts, and is consistent with earlier suggestions that titin may function as an initial organizer of myofibrillar proteins during myogenesis. Immunofluorescence data indicate that the earliest localization of the myofibrillar proteins titin, MHC, zeugmatin and alpha-actinin in the round myoblasts is surrounding the nucleus with no immunofluorescent labeling of the cytoplasm or near the plasma membrane. Furthermore, pairwise double immunofluorescence experiments show that these four myofibrillar proteins are all co-localized, at the light-microscopic level of resolution, in irregular patterns that may appear in either a punctate or a basket-like distribution. These labeling patterns around the nucleus are resistant to extraction with Triton X-100, suggesting that the proteins are associated in a stable array. These Triton X-100-resistant assemblies in round myoblasts appear to be composed solely of structural myofibrillar proteins, since the non-structural myofibrillar protein creatine kinase (CK) does not colocalize with the other myofibrillar proteins. These results indicate that in early myoblasts myofibrillar proteins form stable pre-myofibrillar assemblies surrounding the nucleus, and raise the possibility that these initial assemblies may play an organizing role during subsequent early stages of myofibrillogenesis.

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