Precise apposition of pre- to postsynaptic specializations is required for optimal function of chemical synapses, but little is known about how it is achieved. At the skeletal neuromuscular junction, active zones (transmitter release sites) in the nerve terminal lie directly opposite junctional folds in the postsynaptic membrane. Few active zones or junctional folds form in mice lacking the laminin beta2 chain, which is normally concentrated in the synaptic cleft. beta2 and the broadly expressed gamma1 chain form heterotrimers with alpha chains, three of which, alpha2, alpha4 and alpha5, are present in the synaptic cleft. Thus, alpha2beta2gamma1, alpha4beta2gamma1 and alpha5beta2gamma1 heterotrimers are all lost in beta2 mutants. In mice lacking laminin alpha4, active zones and junctional folds form in normal numbers, but are not precisely apposed to each other. Thus, formation and localization of synaptic specializations are regulated separately, and alpha4beta2gamma1 (called laminin-9) is critical in the latter process.