It has been previously shown that transiently denervated, neonatal dystrophic muscle fails to undergo the degeneration-regeneration cycle characteristic of murine dystrophy (Moschella and Ontell, 1987). Thus, the myosatellite cells (myogenic stem cells) in these muscles have been spared the mitotic challenge to which dystrophic myosatellite cells are normally subjected early in the time course of the disease. By in vitro evaluation of the proliferative capacity of myosatellite cells derived from extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscles of 100-day-old genetically normal (+/+) and genetically dystrophic [dy/dy (129ReJdy/dy)] mice and from muscles of age-matched mice that had been neonatally denervated (by sciaticotomy) and allowed to reinnervate, it has been possible to directly determine whether the cessation of spontaneous regeneration in older dy/dy muscles in vivo, is due to an innate defect in the proliferative capacity of the myosatellite cells or exhaustion of the myosatellite cells' mitotic activity during the regenerative phase of the disease. This study demonstrates that transient neonatal denervation of dystrophic muscle (Den.dy/dy) increases the number of muscle colony-forming cells (MCFs) per milligram of wet weight muscle tissue, increases the plating efficiency, and significantly increases the in vitro mitotic activity of dystrophic myosatellite cells toward normal values. The increased mitotic capability of myosatellite cells derived from Den.dy/dy muscle as compared to unoperated dy/dy muscle suggests that there is no innate defect in the proliferative capacity of the myosatellite cells of dy/dy muscles and that the cessation of spontaneous regeneration in the dy/dy muscles is related to the exhaustion of their myosatellite cells' mitotic capability.