LiCl (2.5-20 mM) reversibly suppressed nerve growth factor (NGF)-induced neurite outgrowth by cultured rat PC 12 pheochromocytoma cells. Similar concentrations of LiCl also reversibly blocked NGF-dependent regeneration of neurites by PC12 cells that had been primed by long-term pre-exposure to NGF and by cultured newborn mouse sympathetic neurons. In contrast, transcription-dependent responses of PC12 cells to NGF such as priming and induction of the NGF-inducible large external glycoprotein, occurred despite the presence of Li+. SDS PAGE analysis of total cellular phosphoproteins (labeled by 2-h exposure to 32P-orthophosphate) from neurite-bearing primed PC12 cells revealed that Li+ reversibly inhibited the phosphorylation of a band of Mr 64,000 that was barely detectable in NGF-untreated PC12 cells. However, Li+ did not appear to affect the labeling of other phosphoproteins in either NGF-primed or untreated PC12 cultures, nor did it affect the rapid increase in phosphorylation of several proteins that occurs when NGF is first added to unprimed cultures. Several criteria indicated that the NGF-inducible phosphoprotein of Mr 64,000 is a microtubule-associated protein (MAP). Of the NGF-inducible phosphorylated MAPs that have been detected in PC12 cells (Mr 64,000, 72,000, 80,000, and 320,000), several (Mr 64,000, 72,000, and 80,000) were found to be substantially less phosphorylated in the presence of Li+. Neither a phorbol ester tumor promotor nor permeant cAMP analogs reversed the inhibitory effects of Li+ on neurite outgrowth or on phosphorylation of the component of Mr 64,000. Microtubules are a major and required constituent of neurites, and MAPs may regulate the assembly and stability of neuritic microtubules. The observation that Li+ selectively inhibits NGF-induced neurite outgrowth and MAP phosphorylation suggests a possible causal relationship between these two events.

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