Synapse formation requires interactions between pre- and postsynaptic cells to establish the connection of a presynaptic nerve terminal with the neurotransmitter receptor-rich postsynaptic apparatus. At developing vertebrate neuromuscular junctions, acetylcholine receptor (AChR) clusters of nascent postsynaptic apparatus are not apposed by presynaptic nerve terminals. Two opposing activities subsequently promote the formation of synapses: positive signals stabilize the innervated AChR clusters, whereas negative signals disperse those that are not innervated. Although the nerve-derived protein agrin has been suggested to be a positive signal, the negative signals remain elusive. Here, we show that cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5) is activated by ACh agonists and is required for the ACh agonist-induced dispersion of the AChR clusters that have not been stabilized by agrin. Genetic elimination of Cdk5 or blocking ACh production prevents the dispersion of AChR clusters in agrin mutants. Therefore, we propose that ACh negatively regulates neuromuscular synapse formation through a Cdk5-dependent mechanism.
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