Multiple MuSK signaling pathways and the aging neuromuscular junction

Neurosci Lett. 2020 Jul 13:731:135014. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2020.135014. Epub 2020 Apr 28.


The neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is the vehicle for fast, reliable and robust communication between motor neuron and muscle. The unparalleled accessibility of this synapse to morphological, electrophysiological and genetic analysis has yielded an in depth understanding of many molecular components mediating its formation, maturation and stability. However, key questions surrounding the signaling pathways mediating these events and how they play out across the lifetime of the synapse remain unanswered. Such information is critical since the NMJ is necessary for normal movement and is compromised in several settings including myasthenia gravis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), muscular dystrophy, sarcopenia and aging. Muscle specific kinase (MuSK) is a central player in most if not all contexts of NMJ formation and stability. However, elucidating the function of this receptor in this range of settings is challenging since MuSK participates in at least three signaling pathways: as a tyrosine kinase-dependent receptor for agrin-LRP4 and Wnts; and, as a kinase-independent BMP co-receptor. Here we focus on NMJ stability during aging and discuss open questions regarding the molecular mechanisms that govern active maintenance of the NMJ, with emphasis on MuSK and the potential role of its multiple signaling contexts.

Keywords: Aging; BMP signaling; MuSK; Neuromuscular junction; Synaptic maintenance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology
  • Agrin / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiology*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism*


  • Agrin
  • Receptors, Cholinergic
  • MUSK protein, human
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases