Mouse neuroblastoma cells (clone NB2a) were cultured in the presence of 0.3–2.1% halothane in the gas phase for up to 72 h. Halothane inhibited neurite extension dose dependently and virtually abolished microspike formation even at the lowest concentration tested. These effects were completely reversible. Electron microscopy demonstrated that microfilaments measuring 40–80 Å in diameter are the only fibrous organelles visible within microspikes. When the cells were exposed to halothane, no microfilamentous complexes could be identified in any cells and the subcortical regions of neurites often appeared devoid of individual microfilaments. Microtubules were still present in neurites after exposure to halothane concentrations at which microfilaments disappeared. However, at concentrations above 1.0%, microtubules gradually appeared to decrease in number. Short-term experiments showed that existing neurites and microspikes rapidly retracted when suddenly exposed to culture medium equilibrated with 1.0% halothane and quickly reformed when the halothane was removed. The inhibition of neuroblastoma cell differentiation by halothane appears to be mediated by disruption of 40–80 Å diameter microfilaments.

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