Desmin, the main component of intermediate filaments (IFs) in mature skeletal muscle, forms an interlinking scaffold around myofibrils with connections to the sarcolemma and the nuclear membrane. Desmin is enriched in neuromuscular and myotendinous junctions. Mice lacking the desmin gene develop normally and reproduce. However, postnatally they develop a cardiomyopathy and a dystrophy in highly used muscles. We have investigated whether and how neuromuscular and myotendinous junctions are affected and whether nestin compensates for the lack of desmin in the knock-out (K/O) mice. We show that neither neuromuscular nor myotendinous junctions were markedly affected in the desmin K/O mice. In neuromuscular junctions nestin was present between the postjunctional folds and the subneural nuclei and between the nucleus and the myofibrillar cytoskeleton. In myotendinous junctions nestin was present between myofibrils at the Z-disc level and in longitudinal strands close to and at the junction. Nestin expression at these specialized sites, as well as during myogenesis and myofibrillogenesis, is independent of the presence of desmin. In desmin K/O mice nestin was also found in regenerating myofibers. The presence of nestin at neuromuscular and myotendinous junctions might provide enough strength for preservation and organization of the junctional areas, although desmin is lacking.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.