, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 799-815

Distribution of the adhesion molecules N-CAM and L1 on peripheral neurons and glia in adult rats

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Summary

There is considerable evidence that the cell surface glycoproteins N-CAM and L1 are important mediators of cell-cell adhesion in the nervous system, at least during development. Numerous studies have been devoted to the molecular properties of these proteins and their adhesion role in embryonic and early postnatal development. Much less is known about their importance in mature tissues. A rigorous and comprehensive description of the cell distribution of these molecules in the adult nervous system would clearly form a useful baseline for functional and biochemical studies. In the present work we have addressed this issue and studied the distribution of N-CAM and L1 throughout adult, as opposed to developing, rat peripheral nervous tissue. Particular attention was paid to the ganglia of the enteric nervous system, since adhesion mechanisms within these ganglia are likely to be placed under unusual demands.

We report, for the first time, the presence of N-CAM and L1 on mature sensory, sympathetic and enteric neurons in adult rats. Thus, immunostaining of cell suspensions or short-term cultures showed N-CAM and L1 surface labelling on sympathetic and both large and small dorsal root sensory neurons. Both antigens were also present on the surface of enteric neurons in cultures prepared from 10-day-old rats and neonatal guinea pigs. Immunostaining of sections of enteric ganglia from adults indicated that both molecules were also expressed by mature enteric neurons. In sections of mature sciatic nerve neither N-CAM nor L1 immunoreactivity were detected at the site where the plasma membrane of myelinated axons meets the ad-axonal plasma membrane of the myelin-forming Schwann cell. Thus, both N-CAM and L1 were detected on all major classes of peripheral neurons, while their levels in the plasma membrane of myelinated axons may be significantly down-regulated.

Similarly, both N-CAM and L1 were present on all major classes of non-myelin-forming peripheral glia in adult rats. This includes the enteric glial cells of the myenteric ganglia, non-myelin-forming Schwann cells in the sciatic nerve, sympathetic trunk and fine autonomie nerves in the gut wall, and the satellite glial cells of sympathetic and dorsal root sensory ganglia. In contrast, myelin-forming Schwann cells did not express detectable levels of N-CAM and only very low levels of L1, which was mainly located near the nodes of Ranvier.

On the basis of these findings the prediction would be that, with the exception of myelinated fibres, N-CAM and L1 operate in parallel to link neurons and glia throughout the adult rat PNS. It remains to be seen whether myenteric ganglia, a part of the nervous system exposed to an unusual degree of mechanical stress, possess additional adhesive mechanisms. Myelin-forming Schwann cells appear to differ from other peripheral glia in their adhesive interactions with neuronal membranes since they do not express detectable levels of N-CAM and and show only low levels of L1.