We studied the location, relative abundance, and stability of dystrophin in clusters of ACh receptors (AChRs) isolated from primary cultures of neonatal rat myotubes. Although variable amounts of dystrophin were found at receptor clusters, dystrophin was always associated with organized, receptor-rich domains (AChR domains). Dystrophin was occasionally seen in focal contact domains, but never in clathrin-coated domains. Dystrophin was also present in a diffuse, punctate distribution in regions of myotube membrane that did not contain AChR clusters. Immunogold labeling at the ultrastructural level localized dystrophin in a spectrin-rich filamentous network closely applied to the cytoplasmic surface of the cell membrane at AChR domains. Dystrophin was not associated with overlying actin filaments. Semiquantitative immunofluorescence studies indicated that dystrophin was present in relatively small amounts in these preparations, with only one molecule of dystrophin for every approximately 5 AChR, 43 kDa and 58 kDa molecules, and for every approximately 20-35 beta-spectrin molecules. Clusters were disrupted, but the total amount of dystrophin was not significantly reduced, when myotubes were incubated with sodium azide or in Ca(2+)-free medium, and when isolated AChR clusters were extracted at low ionic strength, at high pH, or in 6 M urea. These treatments extract other peripheral membrane proteins from AChR clusters. Labeling for dystrophin was completely eliminated when clusters were incubated with chymotrypsin, however. Thus, dystrophin forms part of a membrane skeleton at AChR clusters, but it is more difficult to remove than other proteins in the network. This suggests that dystrophin attaches to cluster membrane in a unique way.