Several members of the Ig superfamily are expressed on neural cells where they participate in surface interactions between cell bodies and processes. Their Ig domains are more closely related to each other than to Ig variable and constant domains and have been grouped into the C2 set. Here, we report the cloning and characterization of another member of this group, the mouse neuronal cell surface antigen F3. The F3 cDNA sequence contains an open reading frame that could encode a 1,020-amino acid protein consisting of a signal sequence, six Ig-like domains of the C2 type, a long premembrane region containing two segments that exhibit sequence similarity to fibronectin type III repeats and a moderately hydrophobic COOH-terminal sequence. The protein does not contain a typical transmembrane segment but appears to be attached to the membrane by a phosphatidylinositol anchor. Antibodies against the F3 protein recognize a prominent 135-kD protein in mouse brain. In fetal brain cultures, they stain the neuronal cell surface and, in cultures maintained in chemically defined medium, most prominently neurites and neurite bundles. The mouse f3 gene maps to band F of chromosome 15. The gene transcripts detected in the brain by F3 cDNA probes are developmentally regulated, the highest amounts being expressed between 1 and 2 wk after birth. The F3 nucleotide and deduced amino acid sequence show striking similarity to the recently published sequence of the chicken neuronal cell surface protein contactin. However, there are important differences between the two molecules. In contrast to F3, contactin has a transmembrane and a cytoplasmic domain. Whereas contactin is insoluble in nonionic detergent and is tightly associated with the cytoskeleton, about equal amounts of F3 distribute between buffer-soluble, nonionic detergent-soluble, and detergent-insoluble fractions. Among other neural cell surface proteins, F3 most resembles the neuronal cell adhesion protein L1, with 25% amino acid identity between their extracellular domains. Based on its structural similarity with known cell adhesion proteins of nervous tissue and with L1 in particular, we propose that F3 mediates cell surface interactions during nervous system development.

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