N-cadherin is the predominant mediator of calcium-dependent adhesion in the nervous system (Takeichi, M. 1988. Development (Camb.). 102: 639-655). Investigations using antibodies to block N-cadherin function (Bixby, J.L., R.L. Pratt, J. Lilien, and L.F. Reichardt. 1987. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 84:2555-2569; Bixby, J.L., J. Lilien, and L.F. Reichardt. 1988. J. Cell Biol. 107:353-362; Tomaselli, K.J., K.N. Neugebauer, J.L. Bixby, J. Lilien, and L.F. Reichardt. 1988. Neuron. 1:33-43) or transfection of the N-cadherin gene into heterologous cell lines (Matsunaga, M., K. Hatta, A. Nagafuchi, and M. Takeichi. 1988. Nature (Lond.). 334:62-64) have provided evidence that N-cadherin, alone or in combination with other molecules, can participate in the induction of neurite extension. We have developed an affinity purification procedure for the isolation of whole N-cadherin from chick brain and have used the isolated protein as a substrate for neurite outgrowth. N-cadherin promotes the rapid extension of neurites from chick ciliary ganglion neurons, which extend few or no neurites on adhesive but noninducing substrates such as polylysine, tissue culture plastic, and collagens. N-cadherin is extremely potent, more so than the L1 adhesion molecule, and comparable to the extracellular matrix protein laminin. Compared to laminin, however. N-cadherin promotes outgrowth from ciliary ganglion neurons extremely rapidly and with a distinct morphology. These results provide a direct demonstration that N-cadherin is sufficient to induce neurite outgrowth when substrate bound and suggest that the mechanism(s) involved may differ from that induced by laminin.

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