To investigate whether neural adhesion molecules are involved in neuron-induced Schwann cell differentiation, cocultures of pure dorsal root ganglion neurons, and Schwann cells were maintained in the presence of antibodies to evaluate possible perturbing effects. Several parameters characteristic of differentiating Schwann cells were studied, such as transition of spindle-shaped to flattened, i.e., more epithelioid morphology, association with neuronal cell bodies, ensheathment of neurites, production of basal lamina and collagen fibrils, and expression of the myelin associated glycoprotein (MAG). A complete ablation of Schwann cell differentiation in all features studied was seen with antibodies to the neural adhesion molecule L1. Antibodies to N-CAM did not reduce the association of Schwann cells with neurites but abolished the interdigitation of Schwann cell processes into neurite bundles, while leaving the other parameters studied unaffected. Fab fragments of antibodies to J1, MAG, and mouse liver membranes did not interfere with the manifestation of any of these parameters. None of the antibodies changed incorporation of [3H]thymidine into Schwann cells.

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