We have used monolayers of control 3T3 cells and 3T3 cells expressing transfected human neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM) or chick N-cadherin as a culture substrate for PC12 cells. NCAM and N-cadherin in the monolayer directly promote neurite outgrowth from PC12 cells via a G-protein-dependent activation of neuronal calcium channels. In the present study we show that ganglioside GM1 does not directly activate this pathway in PC12 cells. However, the presence of GM1 (12.5-100 micrograms/ml) in the co-culture was associated with a potentiation of NCAM and N-cadherin-dependent neurite outgrowth. Treatment of PC12 cells with GM1 (100 micrograms/ml) for 90 min led to trypsin-stable increases in both beta-cholera toxin binding to PC12 cells and an enhanced neurite outgrowth response to N-cadherin. The ganglioside response could be fully inhibited by treatment with pertussis toxin. These data are consistent with exogenous gangliosides enhancing neuritic growth by promoting cell adhesion molecule-induced calcium influx into neurons.

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