The present investigation was undertaken to study the relationship between acetylcholine receptor (AchR) clustering and endplate formation within regenerating skeletal muscle grafts. Silver staining of nerves was combined with rhodamine-alpha-bungarotoxin labeling of AchR clusters in heterotopic grafts of the rat soleus muscle. Two major graft procedures were used: whole muscle grafts and grafts which lacked the zone of original motor endplates (MEP-less grafts). These categories were subdivided into standard grafts, where subsequent innervation was allowed, and noninnervated grafts, which were experimentally deprived of innervation. Grafting brought about the death and removal of muscle fibers, followed by regeneration of myotubes within surviving basal lamina sheaths. A transient population of small extra-junctinal AchR clusters spontaneously appears shortly after myotube formation in all four muscle graft types. Early myotubes of whole muscle grafts (both innervated and standard grafts, prior to the time of innervation) also develop presumptive secondary synaptic clefts and large, organized aggregations of AchRs at original synaptic sites. At later times, nerves regenerating into standard whole muscle and MEP-less grafts lead to the formation of numerous ectopic endplates. In whole muscle grafts, endplates may also form at original synaptic sites. Functional graft innervation is achieved in whole muscle and MEP-less grafts as early as 20 days postgrafting. The results of this study support the existence of still-unknown factors associated with the original synaptic site which can direct postsynaptic differentiation independent of innervation. They also demonstrate that functional endplates may form in mammalian muscle grafts at both original synaptic sites and ectopic locations, thus indicating that the zone of original synaptic sites is not necessary for the establishment of numerous functional and morphologically well-differentiated endplates.