The rodent neural cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM) consists of three glycoprotein chains of 180, 140, and 120 kD in their adult forms. Although the proportions of the three components are known to change during development and differ between brain regions, their individual distribution and function are unknown. Here we report studies carried out with a monoclonal antibody that specifically recognizes the 180-kD component of mouse N-CAM (N-CAM180) in its highly sialylated embryonic and less glycosylated adult forms. In primary cerebellar cell cultures, N-CAM180 antibody reacts intracellularly with all types of neural cells including astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and neurons. During cerebellar, telencephalic, and retinal development N-CAM180 is detectable by indirect immunohistology in differentiated neural cells, but, in contrast to total N-CAM, not in their proliferating precursors in the ventricular zone and primordial and early postnatal external granular layer. In monolayer cultures of C1300 neuroblastoma cells, N-CAM180 appears by immunofluorescence more concentrated at contact points between adjacent cells, while N-CAM comprising the 180- and 140-kD component shows a more uniform distribution at the plasma membrane. Treatment of neuroblastoma cells with dimethylsulfoxide, which promotes differentiation, induces a shift toward the predominant expression of N-CAM180. These observations support the notion that N-CAM180 is expressed selectively in more differentiated neural cells and suggest a differential role of N-CAM180 in the stabilization of cell contacts.

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