Nerve growth factor (NGF), acidic fibroblast growth factor (aFGF), and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) promote the survival and differentiation of a variety of peripheral and central neurons. The signal transduction mechanisms that mediate the actions of these factors in neuronal cells are not well understood. We examined the effect of a deficiency in protein kinase C (PKC) and/or cAMP second messenger systems on the actions of NGF, aFGF, and bFGF in the pheochromocytoma (PC12) cell line. Activation of PKC was not required for NGF, aFGF, and bFGF to maximally induce ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), transcription of the early response genes, d2 and d5, or neurite outgrowth. In a PC12 cell mutant that is deficient in cAMP responsiveness (A126-1B2), all three growth factors maximally induced the transcription of d5 and neurite outgrowth, but aFGF and bFGF did not induce significant increases in ODC. NGF and aFGF maximally induced the transcription of d2 in A126-1B2 cells, but bFGF-induced d2 transcription was attenuated. NGF, aFGF, and bFGF maximally induced neurite outgrowth and d5 transcription in A126 cells that were made deficient in PKC. The d2 transcriptional response was substantially reduced in cells deficient in both PKC and cAMP responsiveness. These observations lead us to conclude that (a) cAMP- and PKC-dependent events are, at least in part, causally linked to NGF, aFGF, and bFGF induction of both ODC and transcription of d2 and may control functionally redundant pathways; (b) NGF, aFGF, and bFGF can elicit neurite outgrowth and increase transcription of d2 and d5 in PC12 cells via mechanisms that are independent of both PKC and cAMP; (c) NGF, aFGF, and bFGF can induce ODC in the absence of PKC; and (d) aFGF and bFGF require cAMP responsiveness to induce ODC in PC12 cells.

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