We have cloned a DNA fragment from the marine mollusc Aplysia californica, which contains sequences homologous to mammalian ras genes, by screening a genomic library with a viral Ha-ras oncogene probe under conditions of low stringency hybridization. Nucleotide sequencing revealed a putative exon that encodes amino acids sharing 68% homology with residues 5 to 54 of mammalian p21ras polypeptides, and which therefore is likely to encode a ras-like Aplysia protein. The cloned locus, designated Apl-ras, is distinct from the Aplysia rho (ras-homologue) gene and appears to be more closely related to mammalian ras. We used a panel of monoclonal antibodies raised against v-Ha-ras p21 to precipitate an Mr 21,000 protein from extracts of Aplysia nervous tissue, ovotestis, and, to a much lesser degree, buccal muscle. Fluorescence immunocytochemistry revealed that ras-like protein is most abundant in neuronal cell bodies and axon processes, with staining most prominent at plasma membranes. Much less was present in other tissues. The prominence of ras protein in neurons, which are terminally differentiated and non-proliferating, indicates that the control of cell division is not the sole function of this proto-oncogene. The large identified neurons of Aplysia offer the opportunity to examine how ras protein might function in mature nerve cells.

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