The phenomenon of growth cone (GC) and neurite retraction resulting from a rapid incrase in concentration of the trophic molecule NGF was studied. Neurite outgrowth from explants of 8-d chick embryo dorsal root ganglia was achieved at very low NGF concentrations with heart conditioned medium during overnight culture. Quickly incrasing the NGF concentration in the growth medium dramatically affected GC and neurite morphology: the majority of GCs and neurites collapsed and retracted towards the cell body over a course of approximately 2-5 min. Retraction was elicited by increasing NGF levels from 0 to 0.05 ng/ml to as little as 0.5 ng/ml but did not occur if the NGF concentration during the initial overnight culture period exceeded 0.8 ng/ml, regardless of how much the concentration was elevated. Similar concentration changes of cytochrome c or insulin did nt result in retraction. Neurites that had been separated from their cell bodies by cutting close to their exit from the explant still retracted when NGF levels were raised. Cytochalasin B reversible inhibits retraction, whereas colchicine allows retraction to occur. Observation of cell-substratum adhesion during retraction revealed that some adhesion points remain during retraction and that they correspond to the ends of NGF leels and that it may involve microfilaments in the neurite cytoskeleton. The NGF concentration changes that elicit neurite retraction suggest that a primary event in retraction may be increased occupancy of a high-affinity NGF receptor on neurites.

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