Leech neurons in culture sprout rapidly when attached to extracts from connective tissue surrounding the nervous system. Laminin-like molecules that promote sprouting have now been isolated from this extracellular matrix. Two mAbs have been prepared that react on immunoblots with a approximately equal to 220- and a approximately equal to 340-kD polypeptide, respectively. These antibodies have been used to purify molecules with cross-shaped structures in the electron microscope. The molecules, of approximately equal to 10(3) kD on nonreducing SDS gels, have subunits of approximately equal to 340, 220, and 160-180 kD. Attachment to the laminin-like molecules was sufficient to initiate sprouting by single isolated leech neurons in defined medium. This demonstrates directly a function for a laminin-related invertebrate protein. The mAbs directed against the approximately equal to 220-kD chains of the laminin-like leech molecule labeled basement membrane extracellular matrix in leech ganglia and nerves. A polyclonal antiserum against the approximately equal to 220-kD polypeptide inhibited neurite outgrowth. Vertebrate laminin did not mediate the sprouting of leech neurons; similarly, the leech molecule was an inert substrate for vertebrate neurons. Although some traits of structure, function, and distribution are conserved between vertebrate laminin and the invertebrate molecule, our results suggest that the functional domains differ.

This content is only available as a PDF.