Lack of neurite growth in optic nerve explants in vitro has been suggested to be due to nonpermissive substrate properties of higher vertebrate central nervous system (CNS) white matter. We have searched for surface components in CNS white matter, which would prevent neurite growth. CNS, but not peripheral nervous system (PNS) myelin fractions from rat and chick were highly nonpermissive substrates in vitro. We have used an in vitro spreading assay with 3T3 cells to quantify substrate qualities of membrane fractions and of isolated membrane proteins reconstituted in artificial lipid vesicles. CNS myelin nonpermissiveness was abolished by treatment with proteases and was not associated with myelin lipid. Nonpermissive proteins were found to be membrane bound and yielded highly nonpermissive substrates upon reconstitution into liposomes. Size fractionation of myelin protein by SDS-PAGE revealed two highly nonpermissive minor protein fractions of Mr 35 and 250-kD. Removal of 35- and of 250-kD protein fractions yielded a CNS myelin protein fraction with permissive substrate properties. Supplementation of permissive membrane protein fractions (PNS, liver) with low amounts of 35- or of 250-kD CNS myelin protein was sufficient to generate highly nonpermissive substrates. Inhibitory 35- and 250-kD proteins were found to be enriched in CNS white matter and were found in optic nerve cell cultures which contained highly nonpermissive, differentiated oligodendrocytes. The data presented demonstrate the existence of membrane proteins with potent nonpermissive substrate properties. Distribution and properties suggest that these proteins might play a crucial inhibitory role during development and regeneration in CNS white matter.

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