During synaptogenesis at the neuromuscular junction, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) are organized into high-density postsynaptic clusters that are critical for efficient synaptic transmission. Rapsyn, an AChR associated cytoplasmic protein, is essential for the aggregation and immobilization of AChRs at the neuromuscular junction. Previous studies have shown that when expressed in nonmuscle cells, both assembled and unassembled AChR subunits are clustered by rapsyn, and the clustering of the alpha subunit is dependent on its major cytoplasmic loop. In the present study, we investigated the mechanism of rapsyn-induced clustering of the AChR beta, gamma, and delta subunits by testing mutant subunits for the ability to cocluster with rapsyn in transfected QT6 cells. For each subunit, deletion of the major cytoplasmic loop, between the third and fourth transmembrane domains, dramatically reduced coclustering with rapsyn. Furthermore, each major cytoplasmic loop was sufficient to mediate clustering of an unrelated transmembrane protein. The AChR subunit mutants lacking the major cytoplasmic loops could assemble into alphadelta dimers, but these were poorly clustered by rapsyn unless at least one mutant was replaced with its wild-type counterpart. These results demonstrate that the major cytoplasmic loop of each AChR subunit is both necessary and sufficient for mediating efficient clustering by rapsyn, and that only one such domain is required for rapsyn-mediated clustering of an assembly intermediate, the alphadelta dimer.
Copyright 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.