Acetylcholine receptor degradation measured by density labeling: effects of cholinergic ligands and evidence against recycling

Cell. 1979 Mar;16(3):661-74. doi: 10.1016/0092-8674(79)90039-4.


The methodology of density labeling of proteins by biosynthetic incorporation of 2H, 13C, 15N-amino acids into newly synthesized polypeptide chains allows the direct measurement of the turnover rate of the acetylcholine receptor in cultured chick skeletal muscle. In this study, receptors synthesized in medium containing 2H, 13C, 15N-amino acids were resolved from 1H, 12C, 14N-receptors by velocity sedimentation in sucrose-deuterium oxide gradients, and their proportions were determined by computer analysis of the gradient profiles. The kinetics of turnover of acetylcholine receptors are identical for developing chick muscle fibers grown in medium containing 2H, 13C, 15N-amino acids or 1H, 12C, 14N-amino acids, and the high degree of substitution of normal aminoacyl residues by 2H, 13C, 15N-residues does not affect the turnover rate of the denser receptor. Comparison of the turnover rates in continuous and pulse-labeling experiments gave independent confirmation of these results. The application of a potent, essentially irreversible blocking agent, alpha-bungarotoxin, increases the median lifetime of receptors from 17 hr for the native unbound receptor to 22 hr for the alpha-bungarotoxin-receptor complex. As predicted, the total number of alpha-bungarotoxin binding sites increased in the continued presence of alpha-bungarotoxin due to extension of receptor lifetime. To determine whether other cholinergic agents affect the turnover rate of the receptor, measurements were performed on cultures grown in the presence of 10(-4) M d-tubocurare or 10(-4) M carbachol, a reversible antagonist and a reversible agonist, respectively, of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. The receptor degradation rates of the drug-treated cells were identical to control values. The total number of alpha-bungarotoxin binding sites was reduced by 30% in the presence of carbachol, indicating that this agent affects the rate of synthesis of the acetylcholine receptor. Data formerly interpreted as suggesting a cycling of receptor-containing plasma membrane out of and back into the sarcolemma are now understood to reflect the alteration in receptor lifetime upon complexing with alpha-bungarotoxin. The intracellular "hidden" receptor sites were found to remain inside the myotubes and thus do not signify an intracellular pool of recycling plasma membrane.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bungarotoxins / metabolism
  • Bungarotoxins / pharmacology
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chickens
  • Kinetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Parasympathomimetics / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / drug effects
  • Receptors, Cholinergic / metabolism*


  • Bungarotoxins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Parasympathomimetics
  • Receptors, Cholinergic