The addition of nerve growth factor (NGF) to PC12 cells induces an approximate doubling in the cell surface expression of the Thy-1 glycoprotein and the neural cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM) after 24 h of culture. Although both responses are measured at the same time point, their sensitivity to NGF differed with half-maximal induction of Thy-1 apparent at NGF concentrations (approximately 0.1 ng/ml NGF) that had little effect on N-CAM expression. Phorbol ester derivatives capable of activating Ca2+/phospholipid-dependent protein kinase (protein kinase C) and the calcium ionophore A23187 were found to mimic the NGF induction of Thy-1, but not N-CAM. Similar results were observed when a synthetic diacylglycerol was added to PC12 cell cultures. Increased expression of Thy-1 consequent to phorbol ester, calcium ionophore, or NGF treatment was associated with an increase in the expression of the mRNA species that encodes Thy-1. Increased expression of Thy-1 consequent to all three treatments was also reduced by treatment with the transcription inhibitor cordycepin. Treatment of PC12 cells with high concentrations of phorbol esters was found to inhibit the NGF induction of Thy-1, but not N-CAM. Whereas the above results are consistent with activation of protein kinase C underlying the NGF induction of Thy-1, the same data are not consistent with this pathway being important in the N-CAM response.

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