The involvement of the adhesion molecules L1, N-CAM, and J1 in adhesion and neurite outgrowth in the peripheral nervous system was investigated. We prepared Schwann cells and fibroblasts (from sciatic nerves) and neurons (from dorsal root ganglia) from 1-d mice. These cells were allowed to interact with each other in a short-term adhesion assay. We also measured outgrowth of dorsal root ganglion neurons on Schwann cell and fibroblast monolayers. Schwann cells (which express L1, N-CAM, and J1) adhered most strongly to dorsal root ganglion neurons by an L1-dependent mechanism and less by N-CAM and J1. Schwann cell-Schwann cell adhesion was mediated by L1 and N-CAM, but not J1. Adhesion of fibroblasts (which express N-CAM, but not L1 or J1) to neurons or Schwann cells was mediated by L1 and N-CAM and not J1. However, inhibition by L1 and N-CAM antibodies was found to be less pronounced with fibroblasts than with Schwann cells. N-CAM was also strongly involved in fibroblast-fibroblast adhesion. Neurite outgrowth was most extensive on Schwann cells and less on fibroblasts. A difference in extent of neurite elongation was seen between small- (10-20 microns) and large- (20-35 microns) diameter neurons, with the larger neurons tending to exhibit longer neurites. Fab fragments of polyclonal L1, N-CAM, and J1 antibodies exerted slightly different inhibitory effects on neurite outgrowth, depending on whether the neurites were derived from small or large neurons. L1 antibodies interfered most strikingly with neurite outgrowth on Schwann cells (inhibition of 88% for small and 76% for large neurons), while no inhibition was detectable on fibroblasts. Similarly, although to a smaller extent than L1, N-CAM appeared to be involved in neurite outgrowth on Schwann cells and not on fibroblasts. Antibodies to J1 only showed a very small effect on neurite outgrowth of large neurons on Schwann cells. These observations show for the first time that identified adhesion molecules are potent mediators of glia-dependent neurite formation and attribute to L1 a predominant role in neurite outgrowth on Schwann cells which may be instrumental in regeneration.

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