This study represents a global survey of the times of the first appearance of the neuron-glia cell adhesion molecule (Ng-CAM) in various regions and on particular cells of the chick embryonic nervous system. Ng-CAM, originally characterized by means of an in vitro binding assay between glial cells and brain membrane vesicles, first appears in development at the surface of early postmitotic neurons. By 3 d in the chick embryo, the first neurons detected by antibodies to Ng-CAM are located in the ventral neural tube; these precursors of motor neurons emit well-stained fibers to the periphery. To identify locations of appearance of Ng-CAM in the peripheral nervous system (PNS), we used a monoclonal antibody called NC-1 that is specific for neural crest cells in early embryos to show the presence of numerous crest cells in the neuritic outgrowth from the neural tube; neither these crest cells nor those in ganglion rudiments bound anti-Ng-CAM antibodies. The earliest neurons in the PNS stained by anti-Ng-CAM appeared by 4 d of development in the cranial ganglia. At later stages and progressively, all the neurons and neurities of the PNS were found to contain Ng-CAM both in vitro and in vivo. Many central nervous system (CNS) neurons also showed Ng-CAM at these later stages, but in the CNS, the molecule was mostly associated with neuronal processes (mainly axons) rather than with cell bodies; this regional distribution at the neuronal cell surface is an example of polarity modulation. In contrast to the neural cell adhesion molecule and the liver cell adhesion molecule, both of which are found very early in derivatives of more than one germ layer, Ng-CAM is expressed only on neurons of the CNS and the PNS during the later epoch of development concerned with neural histogenesis. Ng-CAM is thus a specific differentiation product of neuroectoderm. Ng-CAM was found on developing neurons at approximately the same time that neurofilaments first appear, times at which glial cells are still undergoing differentiation from neuroepithelial precursors. The present findings and those of previous studies suggest that together the neural cell adhesion molecule and Ng-CAM mediate specific cellular interactions during the formation of neuronal networks by means of modulation events that govern their prevalence and polarity on neuronal cell surfaces.

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