HGF induction of postsynaptic specializations at the neuromuscular junction

J Neurobiol. 2006 Feb 5;66(2):134-47. doi: 10.1002/neu.20206.


A critical event in the formation of vertebrate neuromuscular junctions (NMJs) is the postsynaptic clustering of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs) in muscle. AChR clustering is triggered by the activation of MuSK, a muscle-specific tyrosine kinase that is part of the functional receptor for agrin, a nerve-derived heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG). At the NMJ, heparan sulfate (HS)-binding growth factors and their receptors are also localized but their involvement in postsynaptic signaling is poorly understood. In this study we found that hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), an HS-binding growth factor, surrounded muscle fibers and was localized at NMJs in rat muscle sections. In cultured Xenopus muscle cells, HGF was enriched at spontaneously occurring AChR clusters (hot spots), where HSPGs were also concentrated, and, following stimulation of muscle cells by agrin or cocultured neurons, HGF associated with newly formed AChR clusters. HGF presented locally to cultured muscle cells by latex beads induced new AChR clusters and dispersed AChR hot spots, and HGF beads also clustered phosphotyrosine, activated c-Met, and proteins of dystrophin complex; clustering of AChRs and associated proteins by HGF beads required actin polymerization. Lastly, although bath-applied HGF alone did not induce new AChR clusters, addition of HGF potentiated agrin-dependent AChR clustering in muscle. Our findings suggest that HGF promotes AChR clustering and synaptogenic signaling in muscle during NMJ development.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agrin / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Heparan Sulfate Proteoglycans / metabolism*
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Muscle, Skeletal / growth & development
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / ultrastructure
  • Neuromuscular Junction / growth & development*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / metabolism
  • Neuromuscular Junction / ultrastructure*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism
  • Xenopus


  • Agrin
  • Heparan Sulfate Proteoglycans
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor