We have used monolayers of control 3T3 cells and 3T3 cells expressing transfected human L1 as a culture substrate for rat PC12 cells and rat cerebellar neurons. PC12 cells and cerebellar neurons extended longer neurites on human L1 expressing cells. Neurons isolated from the cerebellum at postnatal day 9 responded equally as well as those isolated at postnatal day 1-4, and this contrasts with the failure of these older neurons to respond to the transfected human neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM). Human L1-dependent neurite outgrowth could be blocked by antibodies that bound to rat L1 and, additionally, the response could be fully inhibited by pertussis toxin and substantially inhibited by antagonists of L- and N-type calcium channels. Calcium influx into neurons induced by K+ depolarization fully mimics the L1 response. Furthermore, we show that L1- and K+(-)dependent neurite outgrowth can be specifically inhibited by a reduction in extracellular calcium to 0.25 microM, and by pretreatment of cerebellar neurons with the intracellular calcium chelator BAPTA/AM. In contrast, the response was not inhibited by heparin or by removal of polysialic acid from neuronal NCAM both of which substantially inhibit NCAM-dependent neurite outgrowth. These data demonstrate that whereas NCAM and L1 promote neurite outgrowth via activation of a common CAM-specific second messenger pathway in neurons, neuronal responsiveness to NCAM and L1 is not coordinately regulated via posttranslational processing of NCAM. The fact that NCAM- and L1-dependent neurite outgrowth, but not adhesion, are calcium dependent provides further evidence that adhesion per se does not directly contribute to neurite outgrowth.

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