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Summary

Mammalian skeletal muscle is generated by two waves of fiber formation, resulting in primary and secondary fibers. These fibers mature to give rise to several classes of adult muscle fibers with distinct contractile properties. Here we describe fast myosin heavy chain (MyHC) isoforms that are expressed in nascent secondary, but not primary, fibers in the early development of rat and human muscle. These fast MyHCs are distinct from previously described embryonic and neonatal fast MyHCs. To identify these MyHCs, monoclonal antibodies were used whose specificity was determined in western blots of MyHCs on denaturing gels and reactivity with muscle tissue at various stages of development. To facilitate a comparison of our results with those of others obtained using different antibodies or species, we have identified cDNAs that encode the epitopes recognized by our antibodies wherever possible. The results suggest that epitopes characteristic of adult fast MyHCs are expressed very early in muscle fiber development and distinguish newly formed secondary fibers from primary fibers. This marker of secondary fibers, which is detectable at the time of their inception, should prove useful in future studies of the derivation of primary and secondary fibers in mammalian muscle development.