Studies of the regulation of tyrosine phosphorylation at the neuromuscular junction during development and following denervation suggest that tyrosine phosphorylation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor is regulated by neuronal innervation of muscle. The finding that agrin, a neuronally derived extracellular matrix protein also induces tyrosine phosphorylation of the nicotinic receptor, suggests that nerve-induced tyrosine phosphorylation may be mediated by agrin. To study this further, we have examined the regulation of tyrosine phosphorylation of the nicotinic receptor by innervation in vitro using muscle-neuron cocultures. Innervation of chick myotubes by chick ciliary ganglia neurons induced tyrosine phosphorylation of the nicotinic receptor with the same subunit specificity seen with bath applied purified agrin. Both innervation and agrin-induced phosphorylation of the nicotinic receptor resulted in an increase in tyrosine and serine phosphorylation. In addition, thermolysin phosphopeptide maps of the subunits after innervation or agrin- treatment were identical. The similarity in the agrin- and nerve- induced phosphorylation of the acetylcholine receptor suggests that agrin mediates the nerve-induced phosphorylation during development in vivo and that phosphorylation of the acetylcholine receptor may play an important role in the development of the neuromuscular junction.