The cytoskeleton of the rat cultured cell line PC12, which is widely used in cell biology as a model system for neuron-like differentiation, displays an unusual combination of intermediate-sized filaments (IFs). As determined by electron microscopy, immunolocalization, and biochemical analyses, these cells contain, in addition to neurofilaments, an extended meshwork of bundles of cytokeratin IFs comprising cytokeratins A and D, equivalent to human cytokeratin polypeptides Nos. 8 and 18, irrespective of whether they are grown in the presence or absence of nerve growth factor. The two IF systems differ in their fibrillar arrays, the neurofilaments being concentrated in perinuclear aggregates similar to those found in certain neuroendocrine tumors of epithelial origin. We conclude that PC12 cells permanently co-express IFs of both the epithelial and the neuronal type and thus present an IF combination different from those of adrenal medulla cells and pheochromocytomas, i.e., the putative cells of origin of the line PC12. The IF cytoskeleton of PC12 cells resembles that of various neuroendocrine tumors derived from epithelial cells. The results show that the development of a number of typical neuronal differentiation features is compatible with the existence of an epithelial type IF cytoskeleton, i.e., cytokeratins. The implications of these findings concerning the validity of the PC12 cell line as a model for neuronal differentiation and possible explanations of the origin of cells with this type of IF co-expression are discussed.

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