In C. elegans, assembly of hypodermal hemidesmosome-like structures called fibrous organelles is temporally and spatially coordinated with the assembly of the muscle contractile apparatus, suggesting that signals are exchanged between these cell types to position fibrous organelles correctly. Myotactin, a protein recognized by monoclonal antibody MH46, is a candidate for such a signaling molecule. The antigen, although expressed by hypodermis, first reflects the pattern of muscle elements and only later reflects the pattern of fibrous organelles. Confocal microscopy shows that in adult worms myotactin and fibrous organelles show coincident localization. Further, cell ablation studies show the bodywall muscle cells are necessary for normal myotactin distribution. To investigate myotactin's role in muscle-hypodermal signaling, we characterized the myotactin locus molecularly and genetically. Myotactin is a novel transmembrane protein of approximately 500 kd. The extracellular domain contains at least 32 fibronectin type III repeats and the cytoplasmic domain contains unique sequence. In mutants lacking myotactin, muscle cells detach when embryonic muscle contraction begins. Later in development, fibrous organelles become delocalized and are not restricted to regions of the hypodermis previously contacted by muscle. These results suggest myotactin helps maintain the association between the muscle contractile apparatus and hypodermal fibrous organelles.