Tests have been made of the action of the methyltransferase inhibitors 5'-S-methyl adenosine, 5'-S-(2-methyl-propyl)-adenosine, and 3-deaza-adenosine +/- L-homocysteine thiolactone, on nerve growth factor (NGF)-dependent events in the rat pheochromocytoma line PC12. Each of these agents inhibited NGF-dependent neurite outgrowth at concentrations of the order of millimolar. Slow initiation of neurite outgrowth over several days and more rapid regeneration of neurites (congruent to 1 d) were blocked, as was the priming mechanism necessary for genesis of neurites. The inhibitions were reversible in that PC12 cells maintained for several days in the presence of inhibitors grew neurites normally after washout of these agents. Other NGF-dependent responses of the PC12 line (i.e., induction of ornithine decarboxylase activity [over 4 h], enhancement of tyrosine hydroxylase phosphorylation [over 1 h], and rapid changes in cell surface morphology [30 s onward]) were inhibited by each of the agents. In contrast, corresponding epidermal growth factor-dependent responses in ornithine decarboxylase activity, phosphorylation, and cell surface morphology were not blocked, but instead either unaffected or enhanced, by the methylation inhibitors. These inhibitors did not act by blockade of binding of NGF to high- or low-affinity cell surface receptors, though they partially inhibited internalization of [125I]NGF. The inhibition of rapidly-induced NGF-dependent events and the differential inhibition of responses to NGF and epidermal growth factor imply that the methyltransferase inhibitors specifically block one of the first steps in the mechanistic pathway for NGF.

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