A subcellular fraction prepared from fetal rat brain and enriched in growth cone membranes is analyzed for its lectin-binding proteins. Growth-associated glycoproteins are identified by comparing the growth cone glycoproteins with those of synaptosomes. Protein was resolved in one- or two-dimensional gels, electroblotted, and blots probed with radioiodinated concanavalin A, wheat germ agglutinin, and Ricinus communis agglutinins I and II. In one-dimensional gels, each lectin recognizes approximately 20 polypeptides (with substantial overlap) most of which migrate diffusely and have relatively high molecular masses (range 30-200 kD). The seven major Coomassie-staining proteins of the membrane fraction (34-52 kD) are not the major lectin-binding proteins. In two-dimensional gels, the lectin-binding proteins are either streaked across the pH gradient or exist as multiple spots, indicating broad charge heterogeneity. Seven wheat germ agglutinin- and Ricinus communis agglutinin II-binding glycoproteins are present in greater abundance in growth cone fractions compared with synaptosomes. Most notably, an acidic, sialic acid-rich protein (27-30 kD, pI 4.0; termed gp27-30) is most abundant at postnatal day 4, but absent from adult brain. The protein's very acidic isoelectric point is due, at least in part, to its high sialic acid content. Growth regulation of specific protein-linked oligosaccharides suggests that they play a special role in growth cone function. In addition, the great diversity of growth cone glycoproteins from whole brain suggests glycoprotein heterogeneity among growth cones from different neuron types.

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