The postsynaptic submembrane machinery at the neuromuscular junction: requirement for rapsyn and the utrophin/dystrophin-associated complex

J Neurocytol. Jun-Sep 2003;32(5-8):709-26. doi: 10.1023/B:NEUR.0000020619.24681.2b.


Neuromuscular synapse formation is brought about by a complex bi-directional exchange of information between the innervating motor neuron and its target skeletal muscle fiber. Agrin, a heparin sulfate proteoglycan, is released from the motor nerve terminal to activate its muscle-specific kinase (MuSK) receptor that leads to a second messenger cascade requiring rapsyn to ultimately bring about AChR clustering in the muscle membrane. Rapsyn performs many functions in skeletal muscle. First, rapsyn and AChRs co-target to the postsynatic apparatus. Second, rapsyn may self associate to stabilize and promote AChR clustering. Third, rapsyn is essential for AChR cluster formation. Fourth, rapsyn is required to transduce the agrin-evoked MuSK phosphorylation signal to AChRs. Finally, rapsyn links AChRs to the utrophin-associated complex, which appears to be required for AChR stabilization as well as maturation of the neuromuscular junction. Proteins within the utrophin-associated complex such as alpha-dystrobrevin and alpha-syntrophin are also important for signaling events that affect neuromuscular synapse stability and function. Here we review our current understanding of the role of the postsynaptic-submembrane machinery involving rapsyn and the utrophin-associated complex at the neuromuscular synapse. In addition we briefly review how these studies of the neuromuscular junction relate to GABAergic and glycinergic synapses in the CNS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / chemistry
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / chemistry
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Muscle Proteins / chemistry
  • Muscle Proteins / genetics
  • Muscle Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / genetics
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism*
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synaptic Membranes / genetics
  • Synaptic Membranes / metabolism*
  • Utrophin


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Utrophin
  • peripheral membrane protein 43K