Neural cell adhesion molecules (NCAMs) are cell surface glycoproteins that appear to mediate cell-cell adhesion. In vertebrates NCAMs exist in at least three different polypeptide forms of apparent molecular masses 180, 140, and 120 kD. The 180- and 140-kD forms span the plasma membrane whereas the 120-kD form lacks a transmembrane region. In this study, we report the isolation of NCAM clones from an adult rat brain cDNA library. Sequence analysis indicated that the longest isolate, pR18, contains a 2,574 nucleotide open reading frame flanked by 208 bases of 5' and 409 bases of 3' untranslated sequence. The predicted polypeptide encoded by clone pR18 contains a single membrane-spanning region and a small cytoplasmic domain (120 amino acids), suggesting that it codes for a full-length 140-kD NCAM form. In Northern analysis, probes derived from 5' sequences of pR18, which presumably code for extracellular portions of the molecule hybridized to five discrete mRNA size classes (7.4, 6.7, 5.2, 4.3, and 2.9 kb) in adult rat brain but not to liver or muscle RNA. However, the 5.2- and 2.9-kb mRNA size classes did not hybridize to either a large restriction fragment or three oligonucleotides derived from the putative transmembrane coding region and regions that lie 3' to it. The 3' probes did hybridize to the 7.4-, 6.7-, and 4.3-kb message size classes. These combined results indicate that clone pR18 is derived from either the 7.4-, 6.7-, or 4.3-kb adult rat brain RNA size class. Comparison with chicken and mouse NCAM cDNA sequences suggests that pR18 represents the amino acid coding region of the 6.7- or 4.3-kb mRNA. The isolation of pR18, the first cDNA that contains the complete coding sequence of an NCAM polypeptide, unambiguously demonstrates the predicted linear amino acid sequence of this probable rat 140-kD polypeptide. This cDNA also contains a 30-base pair segment not found in NCAM cDNAs isolated from other species. The significance of this segment and other structural features of the 140-kD form of NCAM can now be studied.

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