The neural cell adhesion molecule NCAM is capable of mediating cell-cell adhesion via homophilic interactions. In this study, three strategies have been combined to identify regions of NCAM that participate directly in NCAM-NCAM binding: analysis of domain deletion mutations, mapping of epitopes of monoclonal antibodies, and use of synthetic peptides to inhibit NCAM activity. Studies on L cells transfected with NCAM mutant cDNAs using cell aggregation and NCAM-covasphere binding assays indicate that the third immunoglobulin-like domain is involved in homophilic binding. The epitopes of four monoclonal antibodies that have been previously shown to affect cell-cell adhesion mediated by NCAM were also mapped to domain 3. Overlapping hexapeptides were synthesized on plastic pins and assayed for binding with these monoclonal antibodies. One of them (PP) reacted specifically with the sequence KYSFNY. Synthetic oligopeptides containing the PP epitope were potent and specific inhibitors of NCAM binding activity. A substratum containing immobilized peptide conjugates also exhibited adhesiveness for neural retinal cells. Cell attachment was specifically inhibited by peptides that contained the PP-epitope and by anti-NCAM univalent antibodies. The shortest active peptide has the sequence KYSFNYDGSE, suggesting that this site is directly involved in NCAM homophilic interaction.

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