12 distinct neural cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM) epitopes, each recognized by a different monoclonal antibody (mAb), have been characterized in terms of the major structural and functional features of the molecule. Seven antibodies, each recognizing the amino-terminal region of the molecule, altered the rate of N-CAM-mediated adhesion. Four of these were inhibitors, two of which also recognized a heparin-binding N-CAM fragment. The other three antibodies specifically enhanced the rate of N-CAM-mediated adhesion. Three epitopes, one polypeptide- and two carbohydrate-dependent, were associated with the sialic acid-rich central portion of the molecule. The remaining two antibodies were found to react with intracellular determinants, and are specific for the largest of the three major N-CAM polypeptide forms. Studies on the ability of one antibody to hinder recognition of native N-CAM by another antibody suggested that the epitopes associated with N-CAM binding functions are in close proximity compared with the other determinants. The classification of these mAb epitopes has allowed the topographical placement of key N-CAM features, as described in the following paper, and provides valuable probes for analysis of both the structure and function of N-CAM.

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