Schwann cells have a unique role in regulating the growth of axons during regeneration and presumably during development. Here we show that Schwann cells are the best substrate yet identified for promoting process growth in vitro by peripheral motor neurons. To determine the molecular interactions responsible for Schwann cell regulation of axon growth, we have examined the effects of specific antibodies on process growth in vitro, and have identified three glycoproteins that play major roles. These are the Ca2+-independent cell adhesion molecule (CAM), L1/Ng-CAM; the Ca2+-dependent CAM, N-cadherin; and members of the integrin extracellular matrix receptor superfamily. Two other CAMs present on neurons and/or Schwann cells-N-CAM and myelin-associated glycoprotein-do not appear to be important in regulating process growth. Our results imply that neuronal growth cones use integrin-class extracellular matrix receptors and at least two CAMs--N-cadherin and L1/Ng-CAM-for growth on Schwann cells in vitro and establish each of these glycoproteins as a strong candidate for regulating axon growth and guidance in vivo.

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