Fast and slow skeletal muscle types in larval zebrafish can be distinguished by a fivefold difference in the time course of their synaptic decay. Single-channel recordings indicate that this difference is conferred through kinetically distinct nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (AChR) isoforms. The underlying basis for this distinction was explored by cloning zebrafish muscle AChR subunit cDNAs and expressing them in Xenopus laevis oocytes. Measurements of single-channel conductance and mean open burst duration assigned α2βδε to fast muscle synaptic current. Contrary to expectations, receptors composed of only αβδ subunits (presumed to be α2βδ2 receptors) recapitulated the kinetics and conductance of slow muscle single-channel currents. Additional evidence in support of γ/ε-less receptors as mediators of slow muscle synapses was reflected in the inward current rectification of heterologously expressed α2βδ2 receptors, a property normally associated with neuronal-type nicotinic receptors. Similar rectification was reflected in both single-channel and synaptic currents in slow muscle, distinguishing them from fast muscle. The final evidence for α2βγ2 receptors in slow muscle was provided by our ability to convert fast muscle synaptic currents to those of slow muscle by knocking down ε subunit expression in vivo. Thus, for the first time, muscle synaptic function can be ascribed to a receptor isoform that is composed of only three different subunits. The unique functional features offered by the α2βγ2 receptor likely play a central role in mediating the persistent contractions characteristic to this muscle type.
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