The binding of nerve growth factor (NGF) to specific cell surface receptors initiates a variety of effects that lead to the morphological and biochemical differentiation of clonal pheochromocytoma, PC12, cells. The lectin wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) alters the characteristics of NGF-receptor interaction. We have found that treatment of PC12 cells with WGA dramatically and reversibly inhibits the ability of NGF to elicit three distinct biological effects characteristic of NGF action. Two of these events, the rapid ruffling of cell-surface membranes and the stimulation of the phosphorylation of a 250-kD cytoskeletal protein in situ, occur rapidly and are an immediate consequence of receptor occupancy. Both of these effects are blocked by pretreatment of the cells with WGA. WGA was also found to inhibit the NGF-stimulated regeneration of neurites that occurs over 1-2 d. Both the WGA inhibition of neurite outgrowth and the phosphorylation of the 250-kD cytoskeletal protein were reversed upon addition of the specific sugar N-acetylglucosamine. These data demonstrate that the WGA-induced changes in the NGF-receptor interaction reflect important alterations in the ability of the receptor to transmit biological signals, resulting in the abrogation of the biological effects of NGF on these cells.

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