Repair of damaged skeletal muscle fibers by muscle precursor cells (MPC) is central to the regeneration that occurs after injury or disease of muscle and is vital to the success of myoblast transplantation to treat inherited myopathies. However, we lack a detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of this muscle repair. Here, we have used a novel combination of techniques to study this process, marking MPC with nuclear-localizing LacZ and tracing their contribution to regeneration of muscle fibers after grafting into preirradiated muscle of the mdx nu/nu mouse. In this model system, there is muscle degeneration, but little or no regeneration from endogenous MPC. Incorporation of donor MPC into injected muscles was analyzed by preparing single viable muscle fibers at various times after cell implantation. Fibers were either stained immediately for beta-gal, or cultured to allow their associated satellite cells to migrate from the fiber and then stained for beta-gal. Marked myonuclei were located in discrete segments of host muscle fibers and were not incorporated preferentially at the ends of the fibers. All branches on host fibers were also found to be composed of myonuclei carrying the beta-gal marker. There was no significant movement of donor myonuclei within myofibers for up to 7 weeks after MPC implantation. Although donor-derived dystrophin was usually located coincidentally with donor myonuclei, in some fibers, the dystrophin protein had spread further along the mosaic myofibers than had the myonuclei of donor origin. In addition to repairing segments of the host fiber, the implanted MPC also gave rise to satellite cells, which may contribute to future muscle repair.