The neuron-glia cell adhesion molecule (Ng-CAM) mediates both neuron-neuron and neuron-glia adhesion; it is detected on SDS-PAGE as a predominant 135-kD glycoprotein, with minor components of 80, 190, and 210 kD. We have isolated cDNA clones encoding the entire sequence of chicken Ng-CAM. The predicted extracellular region includes six immunoglobulin-like domains followed by five fibronectin-type III repeats, structural features that are characteristic of several neural CAMs of the N-CAM superfamily. The amino acid sequence of chicken Ng-CAM is most similar to that of mouse L1 but the overall identity is only 40% and Ng-CAM contains a short fibronectin-like segment with an RGD sequence that has no counterpart in L1. These findings suggest that Ng-CAM and L1 may not be equivalent molecules in chicken and mouse. The amino-terminal sequences of the 210-, 190-, and 135-kD components of Ng-CAM are all the same as the predicted amino terminus of the molecule, whereas the 80-kD component begins within the third fibronectin repeat. The cDNA sequence is continuous across the junction between the 135- and 80-kD components, and a single 170-kD Ng-CAM polypeptide was isolated from tunicamycin-treated cells. In addition, all cDNA probes hybridized on Northern blots to a 6-kb RNA, and most hybridized to single bands on Southern blots. These results indicate that the Ng-CAM components are derived from a single polypeptide encoded by a single gene, and that the 135- and 80-kD components are generated from the 210/190-kD species by proteolytic cleavage. The 135-kD component contains most of the extracellular region including all of the immunoglobulin-like domains. It has no transmembrane segment, but it is tightly associated with the membrane. The 80-kD component contains two and a half type III repeats plus the RGD-containing segment, as well as the single transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains. These structural features of Ng-CAM provide a framework for understanding its multiple functions in neuron-neuron interactions, neurite fasciculation, and neuron-glia interactions.

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