MM14 mouse myoblasts withdraw irreversibly from the cell cycle and become postmitotic within a few hours of being deprived of fibroblast growth factor (Clegg, C. H., T. A. Linkhart, B. B. Olwin, and S. D. Hauschka, 1987, J. Cell Biol., 105:949-956). To examine the mechanisms that may regulate this developmental state of skeletal muscle, we tested the mitogen responsiveness of various cell types after their polyethylene glycol-mediated fusion with post-mitotic myocytes. Heterokaryons containing myocytes and quiescent nonmyogenic cells such as 3T3, L cell, and a differentiation-defective myoblast line (DD-1) responded to mitogen-rich medium by initiating DNA synthesis. Myonuclei replicated DNA and reexpressed thymidine kinase. In contrast, (myocyte x G1 myoblast) heterokaryons failed to replicate DNA in mitogen-rich medium and became postmitotic. This included cells with a nuclear ratio of three myoblasts to one myocyte. Proliferation dominance in (myocyte x 3T3 cell) and (myocyte x DD-1) heterokaryons was conditionally regulated by the timing of mitogen treatment; such cells became postmitotic when mitogen exposure was delayed for as little as 6 h after cell fusion. In addition, (myocyte x DD-1) heterokaryons expressed a muscle-specific trait and lost epidermal growth factor receptors when they became postmitotic. These results demonstrate that DNA synthesis is not irreversibly blocked in skeletal muscle; myonuclei readily express proliferation-related functions when provided with a mitogenic signal. Rather, myocyte-specific repression of DNA synthesis in heterokaryons argues that the postmitotic state of skeletal muscle is regulated by diffusible factors that inhibit processes of cellular mitogenesis.

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