MuSK is a BMP co-receptor that shapes BMP responses and calcium signaling in muscle cells

Sci Signal. 2016 Sep 6;9(444):ra87. doi: 10.1126/scisignal.aaf0890.


Bone morphogenetic proteins (BMPs) function in most tissues but have cell type-specific effects. Given the relatively small number of BMP receptors, this exquisite signaling specificity requires additional molecules to regulate this pathway's output. The receptor tyrosine kinase MuSK (muscle-specific kinase) is critical for neuromuscular junction formation and maintenance. Here, we show that MuSK also promotes BMP signaling in muscle cells. MuSK bound to BMP4 and related BMPs with low nanomolar affinity in vitro and to the type I BMP receptors ALK3 and ALK6 in a ligand-independent manner both in vitro and in cultured myotubes. High-affinity binding to BMPs required the third, alternatively spliced MuSK immunoglobulin-like domain. In myoblasts, endogenous MuSK promoted BMP4-dependent phosphorylation of SMADs and transcription of Id1, which encodes a transcription factor involved in muscle differentiation. Gene expression profiling showed that MuSK was required for the BMP4-induced expression of a subset of genes in myoblasts, including regulator of G protein signaling 4 (Rgs4). In myotubes, MuSK enhanced the BMP4-induced expression of a distinct set of genes, including transcripts characteristic of slow muscle. MuSK-mediated stimulation of BMP signaling required type I BMP receptor activity but was independent of MuSK tyrosine kinase activity. MuSK-dependent expression of Rgs4 resulted in the inhibition of Ca(2+) signaling induced by the muscarinic acetylcholine receptor in myoblasts. These findings establish that MuSK has dual roles in muscle cells, acting both as a tyrosine kinase-dependent synaptic organizing molecule and as a BMP co-receptor that shapes BMP transcriptional output and cholinergic signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4 / genetics
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4 / metabolism*
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein Receptors, Type I / genetics
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein Receptors, Type I / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Humans
  • Inhibitor of Differentiation Protein 1 / genetics
  • Inhibitor of Differentiation Protein 1 / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Myoblasts / cytology
  • Myoblasts / metabolism*
  • RGS Proteins / genetics
  • RGS Proteins / metabolism
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / genetics
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Smad Proteins / genetics
  • Smad Proteins / metabolism


  • BMP4 protein, human
  • Bmp4 protein, mouse
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein 4
  • ID1 protein, human
  • Idb1 protein, mouse
  • Inhibitor of Differentiation Protein 1
  • RGS Proteins
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • Smad Proteins
  • RGS4 protein
  • MUSK protein, human
  • MuSK protein, mouse
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Bmpr1a protein, mouse
  • Bmpr1b protein, mouse
  • Bone Morphogenetic Protein Receptors, Type I