Molecular Neurobiology

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 201–226

The mode of action of nerve growth factor in PC12 cells


  • A. Levi
    • Institute of NeurobiologyCNR
  • S. Biocca
    • Institute of NeurobiologyCNR
  • A. Cattaneo
    • Institute of NeurobiologyCNR
  • P. Calissano
    • Institute of NeurobiologyCNR

DOI: 10.1007/BF02935346

Cite this article as:
Levi, A., Biocca, S., Cattaneo, A. et al. Mol Neurobiol (1988) 2: 201. doi:10.1007/BF02935346


This review deals with the mechanism of nerve growth factor action. In view of the many and diversified effects of this growth factor, and since it could utilize different mechanism(s) in distinct types of cells, we have confined our analysis to the best characterized and more extensively studied target, the clonal cell line PC12.

When exposed to NGF in vitro, these neoplastic cells recapitulate the last major steps of neuronal differentiation, i.e., the commitment to become a neuron and the acquisition of the neuronal phenotype. This is characterized by electrically excitable neurites, a display of a highly organized cytoskeleton, and the specific chemical and molecular neuronal properties. These effects are elicited upon the interaction of NGF with a receptor whose gene has been cloned and whose kinetic properties are now relatively well characterized. It is not yet clear, on the contrary, if and which of the several potential second messengers (cAMP, Ca, or phosphoinositides) that undergo marked fluctuations following NGF binding, transduce and amplify the NGF message. Among both the early and late effects of NGF is the modulation of expression of several genes. Some of the products of these genes are mainly restricted to nerve cells and others appear to play a crucial role in regulating the proper assembly of cytoskeletal elements.

It is hypothesized that this complex array of chemical, molecular, and ultrastructural changes is triggered by NGF, not through activation of a single pathway, but more likely via combinatorial processes whereby several intracellular signals interplay before the irreversible commitment of becoming a neuron is undertaken.

Index Entries

NGF, action ofPC12neuronal differentiationsecond messengersintracellular signals

Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 1988