To examine possible changes in cell surface carbohydrates, fluorescent lectins were applied at various times during differentiation of neural crest cells in vitro. The pattern and intensity of binding of several lectins changed as the crest cells developed into melanocytes and adrenergic cells. Considerable amounts of concanavalin A (Con A) and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) bound to all unpigmented cells throughout the culture period. Melanocytes, however, bound much less of these lectins. Soy bean agglutinin (SBA), unlike Con A and WGA, only bound later in development to unpigmented cells at about the time when catecholamines were detected histochemically. Binding of SBA could be induced in younger cultures by pretreating the cells with neuraminidase. Melanocytes, however, did not bind detectable amounts of SBA even if treated with neuraminidase. The SBA-binding sites were often concentrated on cytoplasmic extensions and on contact points between neighboring cells, even when receptor mobility was restricted by prefixation of the cells or adsorption of lectin at 0 degrees C. All three lectins bound to cell processes resembling nerve fibers in particularly high amounts.

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