We have studied the subcellular distribution of the alpha 1 and alpha 2 subunits of the skeletal muscle dihydropyridine (DHP) receptor with immunofluorescence labeling of normal and dysgenic (mdg) muscle in culture. In normal myotubes both alpha subunits were localized in clusters associated with the T-tubule membranes of longitudinally as well as transversely oriented T-tubules. The DHP receptor-rich domains may represent the sites where triad junctions with the sarcoplasmic reticulum are being formed. In cultures from dysgenic muscle the alpha 1 subunit was undetectable and the distribution patterns of the alpha 2 subunit were abnormal. The alpha subunit did not form clusters nor was it discretely localized in the T-tubule system. Instead, alpha 2 was found diffusely distributed in parts of the T-system, in structures in the perinuclear region and in the plasma membrane. These results suggest that an interaction between the two alpha subunits is required for the normal distribution of the alpha 2 subunit in the T-tubule membranes. Spontaneous fusion of normal non-muscle cells with dysgenic myotubes resulted in a regional expression of the alpha 1 polypeptide near the foreign nuclei, thus defining the nuclear domain of a T-tubule membrane protein in multi-nucleated muscle cells. Furthermore, the normal intracellular distribution of the alpha 2 polypeptide was restored in domains containing a foreign "rescue" nucleus; this supports the idea that direct interactions between the DHP receptor alpha 1 and alpha 2 subunits are involved in the organization of the junctional T-tubule membranes.

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