A hybrid toxin composed of ricin A chain and a monoclonal antibody directed against the rat nerve growth factor (NGF) receptor (192-IgG) was prepared using the heterobifunctional cross-linking agent N-succinimidyl-3-(2-pyridyldithio)-propionate and purified by affinity chromatography. Characterization studies showed that the hybrid, 192-s-s-A, displaced bound 125I-labeled 192-IgG from rat superior cervical ganglion (SCG) membranes with an IC50 3-5 times lower than that of unconjugated 192-IgG. When incubated with cultured rat SCG neurons, 192-s-s-A inhibited protein synthesis in a concentration-dependent fashion. The effect of 192-s-s-A on these neurons was reversed by coincubation with an excess of 192-IgG. The IC50 of 192-s-s-A on protein synthesis in rat SCG neurons was 4 nM. Intact ricin and ricin A chain inhibited protein synthesis in these neurons with IC50 values of 5 pM and 500 nM, respectively. The 192-s-s-A hybrid had no effect on mouse SCG neurons or a human melanoma cell line known to have NGF receptors. This is consistent with the finding that 192-IgG recognizes only the rat NGF receptor. Also, 192-s-s-A did not inhibit protein synthesis in primary cultures of rat skeletal muscle or Vero cells, which do not have cell surface receptors for NGF. 192-s-s-A was able to inhibit protein synthesis in PC12 cells but the potency was 10-100 times less in these cells compared to rat SCG neurons. Ricin and A chain were also 10-100 times less potent in PC12 cells than neurons. Rat SCG neurons exposed to 192-s-s-A lost their refractile appearance under phase-contrast optics, showed granular degeneration of neurites, and died. Thus the decreased protein synthesis caused by the hybrid toxin correlated with the morphological destruction of the neurons. 192-s-s-A represents a potentially powerful tool by which to selectively destroy NGF receptor-bearing cells in vitro. The hybrid toxin may prove useful as an in vivo toxin.

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