We have previously shown that nerve growth factor (NGF) selectively stabilizes the GAP-43 mRNA in PC12 cells. To study the cellular mechanisms for this post-transcriptional control and to determine the contribution of mRNA stability to GAP-43 gene expression, we examined the effects of several agents that affect PC12 cell differentiation on the level of induction and rate of degradation of the GAP-43 mRNA. The NGF-mediated increase in GAP-43 mRNA levels and neurite outgrowth was mimicked by the phorbol ester TPA, but not by dibutyryl cAMP or the calcium ionophore A12783. Downregulation of protein kinase C (PKC) by high doses of phorbol esters or selective PKC inhibitors prevented the induction of this mRNA by NGF, suggesting that NGF and TPA act through a common PKC-dependent pathway. In mRNA decay studies, phorbol esters caused a selective 6-fold increase in the half-life of the GAP-43 mRNA, which accounts for most of the induction of this mRNA by TPA. The phorbol ester-induced stabilization of GAP-43 mRNA was blocked by the protein kinase inhibitor polymyxin B and was partially inhibited by dexamethasone, an agent that blocks GAP-43 expression and neuronal differentiation in PC12 cells. In contrast, the rates of degradation and the levels of the GAP-43 mRNA in control and TPA-treated cells were not affected by cycloheximide treatment. Thus, changes in GAP-43 mRNA turnover do not appear to require continuous protein synthesis. In conclusion, these data suggest that PKC activity regulates the levels of the GAP-43 mRNA in PC12 cells through a novel, translation-independent mRNA stabilization mechanism.

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