Sodium orthovanadate, an inhibitor of protein tyrosine phosphatases, causes increased levels of tyrosine phosphorylation and blocks, at noncytotoxic concentrations, the differentiative response of rat pheochromocytoma (PC12) cells to beta-nerve growth factor (beta NGF) and basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) in a reversible manner. It also prevents growth factor-induced neurite proliferation in primed cells and causes the retraction of previously formed neurites, even in the presence of beta NGF or bFGF. It is equally effective in blocking neurite proliferation by 8-Br-cAMP. Zinc chloride and ammonium molybdate, two other inhibitors of tyrosine phosphatases, also cause parallel decreases in neurite proliferation. Orthovanadate generally reduces the transcription of immediate early response genes (TIS 8 and c-fos) and secondary response genes (ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), acetyl-cholinesterase (AChE) and SCG 10) induced by beta NGF, bFGF, EGF, and PMA, albeit in a variable fashion. There was no observed effect on the kinetics of expression as judged by TIS 8 induction by beta NGF and protein kinase C (PKC) downregulation did not change the levels of inhibition by orthovanadate seen in control cells. Orthovanadate does not affect the production of diacylglycerol induced by beta NGF or bFGF. These observations are consistent with the view that growth factor stimulation of differentiation in PC12 cells involves at least one other PKC independent pathway, and that cAMP and PMA (and their active analogs) activate tyrosine kinases (albeit probably secondarily), which are at least partially responsible for their actions. Although the exact site(s) of action of orthovanadate that lead to the inhibition of growth factor-induced neurite proliferation are unknown, the results presented suggest that it prolongs tyrosine phosphorylations by nonreceptor tyrosine kinases that act downstream from the receptor kinases.

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