This study characterizes effects of nerve growth factor (NGF) on the steady-state level and phosphorylation of a high molecular mass microtubule-associated protein in PC12 rat pheochromocytoma cells. Past work showed that NGF significantly raises the relative levels of this phosphoprotein, designated MAP1.2, with a time course similar to that of neurite outgrowth. To study this in greater detail, MAP1.2 in PC12 cell lysates was resolved by SDS-PAGE in gels containing 3.25% acrylamide/4 M urea and identified by comigration with material immunoprecipitated from the lysates by MAP1 antibodies. Quantification by metabolic radiolabeling with [35S]methionine or by silver staining revealed a 3.0-3.5-fold increase in MAP1.2 levels relative to total cell protein after NGF treatment for 2 wk or longer. A partial increase was detectable after 3 d, but not after 2 h of NGF exposure. As measured by incorporation of [32P]phosphate, NGF had a dual effect on MAP1.2. Within 15 min to 2 h, NGF enhanced the incorporation of phosphate into MAP1.2 by two- to threefold relative to total cell phosphoproteins. This value slowly increased thereafter so that by 2 wk or more of NGF exposure, the average enhancement of phosphate incorporation per MAP1.2 molecule was over fourfold. The rapid action of NGF on MAP1.2 could not be mimicked by either epidermal growth factor, a permeant cAMP derivative, phorbol ester, or elevated K+, each of which alters phosphorylation of other PC12 cell proteins. SDS-PAGE revealed multiple forms of MAP1.2 which, based on the effects of alkaline phosphatase on their electrophoretic mobilities, differ, at least in part, in extent of phosphorylation. Before NGF treatment, most PC12 cell MAP1.2 is in more rapidly migrating, relatively poorly phosphorylated forms. After long-term NGF exposure, most is in more slowly migrating, more highly phosphorylated forms. The effects of NGF on the rapid phosphorylation of MAP1.2 and on the long-term large increase in highly phosphorylated MAP1.2 forms could play major functional roles in NGF-mediated neuronal differentiation. Such roles may include effects on microtubule assembly, stability, and cross-linking and, possibly for the rapid effects, nuclear signaling.

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