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The ryanodine receptor/junctional channel complex (JCC) forms the calcium release channel and foot structures of the sarcoplasmic reticulum. The JCC and the dihydropyridine (DHP) receptor in the transverse tubule are two of the major components involved in excitation-contraction (E-C) coupling in skeletal muscle. The DHP receptor is believed to serve as the voltage sensor in E-C coupling. Both the JCC and DHP receptor, as well as many skeletal muscle-specific contractile protein genes, are expressed in the BC3H1 muscle cell line. In the present study, we find that during differentiation of BC3H1 cells, induced by mitogen withdrawal, induction of the JCC and DHP receptor mRNAs is temporally similar to that of the skeletal muscle contractile protein genes alpha-tropomyosin and alpha-actin. Our data suggest that there is coordinate regulation of both the contractile protein genes (which have been studied in detail previously) and the genes encoding the calcium channels involved in E-C coupling. Induction of both calcium channels is accompanied by profound changes in BC3H1 cell morphology including the development of many components of mature skeletal muscle cells, despite lack of myoblast fusion. Visualized by electron microscopy, the JCC appears as "foot structures" located in the dyad junction between the plasmalemma and the sarcoplasmic reticulum of the BC3H1 cells. Development of foot structures is concomitant with JCC mRNA expression. Expression of the JCC and DHP receptor mRNAs and formation of the foot structures are inhibited specifically by fibroblast growth factor.