Adhesive contacts made by filopodia of neuronal growth cones are essential for proper neurite elongation and may have a role in the formation of synaptic junctions. Previously we described the appearance of filamentous materials extending from growth cone surfaces that seem to be associated with the strongly adhesive behavior of filopodia (Tsui, H.-C., K. L. Lankford, and W. L. Klein. 1985. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 82:8256-8260). Here, we have used immunogold labeling to determine whether known adhesive molecules might be localized at points of adhesion and possibly be constituents of the filamentous material. Antibodies to an adhesive molecule (neural cell adhesion molecule [N-CAM]) and to an adhesive macromolecular complex of proteins and proteoglycans (adheron) were localized at the EM level in whole mounts of cultured avian retina cells. Labeling of fixed cells showed that N-CAM and adheron molecules were both present on growth cones and on filopodia. However, filamentous materials extending from the cell surface were labeled with anti-adheron but not with anti-N-CAM. If cells were labeled before fixation, patches of anti-N-CAM labeling occurred in random areas over the growth cones, but adheron antibodies concentrated at points of apparent adhesion. Particularly dense clustering of anti-adheron occurred at individual filopodial tips and at points of contact between pairs of filopodia. The different patterns of labeling imply that N-CAMS do not associate with the main antigenic components of adheron on the membrane surface. Most importantly, the data indicate the N-CAMs were mobile in the membrane but that constituents of adherons were anchored at adhesive loci. An appealing hypothesis is that molecules found in adheron preparations have an important role in establishing the adhesive junctions formed by growth cone filopodia.

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