Muscle activity alters the expression of functionally distinct nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) via regulation of subunit gene expression. Denervation increases the expression of all subunit genes and promotes the expression of embryonic-type (alpha 2 beta delta gamma) nAChRs, while electrical stimulation of denervated muscle prevents this induction. We have discovered that the denervation- induced increases in alpha, beta, gamma, and delta subunit gene expression do not persist in muscles that have been denervated for periods extending beyond a couple of months. However, expression of RNA encoding the epsilon-subunit remains elevated suggesting a return to expression of predominantly adult-type (alpha 2 beta delta epsilon) nAChR in long-term denervated muscles; a finding confirmed by single channel patch-clamp analysis. Since the nAChR subunit genes are regulated by the MyoD family of muscle regulatory factors, and the genes encoding these factors are also induced following short-term muscle denervation, we determined their level of expression in long- term denervated muscle. Although MyoD and myf-5 RNA levels remained elevated, myogenin and MRF4 RNAs were induced only transiently by muscle denervation. Surprisingly, Id-1, a negative regulator of transcription, was gradually induced in denervated muscle with RNA levels peaking about two months after denervation. It is likely that this maintained level of increased Id expression, in conjunction with the returning levels of myogenin and MRF4 expression, account for the reduced level of embryonic receptors in long-term denervated muscle. These changing patterns of gene expression may have important consequences for the ability of muscle to recover function after denervation.