Axonin-1 is a neuronal glycoprotein occurring both as a membrane-bound and a secreted form. Membrane-bound axonin-1 is predominantly located in membranes of developing nerve fiber tracts and has recently been characterized as a cell adhesion molecule; the soluble form is secreted from axons and accumulates in the cerebrospinal fluid and the vitreous fluid of the eye. In the present study, we addressed the question as to whether secreted axonin-1 was released in a functionally competent form and we found that it strongly promotes neurite outgrowth when presented to neurons as an immobilized substratum. Neurite lengths elaborated by embryonic dorsal root ganglia neurons on axonin-1 were similar to those on the established neurite-promoting substrata L1 and laminin. Fab fragments of axonin-1 antibodies completely inhibited neurite growth on axonin-1, but not on other substrata. In soluble form, axonin-1 had an anti-adhesive effect, as revealed by perturbation of neurite fasciculation. In view of their structural similarity, we conclude that secreted and membrane-bound axonin-1 interact with the same growth-promoting neuritic receptor. The fact that secreted axonin-1 is functionally active, together with our previous findings that it is secreted from an internal cellular pool, suggests a functional dualism between membrane-bound and secreted axonin-1 at the site of secretion, which is most likely the growth cone. The secretion of adhesion molecules could represent a powerful and rapidly acting regulatory element of growth cone-neurite interactions in the control of neurite elongation, pathway selection, and possibly target recognition.

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