Previous studies have shown that neuronal cells in culture can switch neurotransmitters when grown in the presence of different target cells. To examine whether this plasticity extends to structural proteins, we cocultured hippocampal neurons and pituitary-derived neuroendocrine (AtT20) cells with astrocytes, kidney epithelial cells, or skeletal muscle cells. As a marker of phenotypic change we used the cytoskeletal protein peripherin, a type III intermediate filament (IF) subunit which is not expressed in hippocampal neurons and AtT20 cells. We show here that soluble factor(s) secreted specifically from skeletal muscle cells can induce the expression and de novo assembly of peripherin in a subset of post-mitotic neurons. We further demonstrate that one of these factors is the Leukemia Inhibitory Factor/Cholinergic Neuronal Differentiation Factor. The environmentally regulated expression of peripherin implies a remarkable degree of plasticity in the cytoskeletal organization of postmitotic CNS cells and provides a noninvasive model system to examine the de novo assembly of IF proteins under in vivo conditions.

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