Calcium plays a critical role in determining the acetylcholine receptor-clustering activities of alternatively spliced isoforms of agrin

Citation for published article

Tseng, C.-N., Zhang, L., Cascio, M., & Wang, Z.-Z. (2003). Calcium Plays a Critical Role in Determining the Acetylcholine Receptor-clustering Activities of Alternatively Spliced Isoforms of Agrin. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 278(19), 17236–17245. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.m300282200



Document Type

Journal Article


Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

Primary Author Department

Chemistry and Biochemistry


Neural agrin, an extracellular matrix protein secreted by motor neurons, plays a key role in clustering of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (AChR) on postsynaptic membranes of the neuromuscular junction. The action of agrin is critically dependent on an eight-amino acid insert (z8 insert) in the third of three consecutive laminin-like globular (G3) domains near the C terminus of neural agrin. Alternatively spliced agrin isoforms in non-neural tissue including muscle lack the z8 insert and are biologically inactive. Extracellular calcium has been shown to be imperative for the AChR-clustering activity of neural agrin. It is unclear, however, whether calcium preferentially interacts with the neural isoform or whether it acts solely as an intracellular messenger that mediates agrin signaling. Here, we report the G3 domain of rat neural agrin (AgG3z8) expressed in Pichia pastoris promoted AChR clustering on surface of C2C12 myotubes in a calcium-dependent manner. Direct binding of calcium to AgG3z8 was demonstrated by trypsin digestion and thermal denaturation experiments. Moreover, calcium induced a significant change in the conformation of AgG3z8, and the effect was correlated with an enhanced binding affinity of the protein to muscle receptor. Mutation of calcium-binding residues in the G3 domain diminished the conformational change of neural agrin, reduced its binding affinity to muscle membrane, and inhibited AChR-clustering activity. Conversely, the G3 domain of muscle agrin (AgG3z0) displayed little structural change in the presence of calcium, bound poorly to muscle surface, and was inactive in AChR-clustering assays. We conclude that distinct interactions of the G3 domain with calcium determine the biological activities of alternatively spliced agrin isoforms during synapse formation.