To investigate the cellular and molecular signals underlying regulation of cell adhesion molecule expression, the influence of interactions between dorsal root ganglion neurons and Schwann cells on their expression of L1 and N-CAM was quantitated by immunogold electronmicroscopy. The numbers of antibody binding sites on cell surfaces of neurons and glia were compared between pure populations and co-cultures. After 3 d of co-culture, expression of L1 was reduced by 91% on Schwann cells and 36% on neurons, with expression in pure cultures being taken as 100%. N-CAM expression was unchanged on neurons and reduced by 43% on Schwann cells. Within 3 d after removal of neurons from Schwann cell-neuron co-cultures by immunocytolysis, expression of L1 and N-CAM on Schwann cell surfaces increased by 69 and 84%, respectively. Cell surface antigens recognized by an antibody to mouse liver membranes were unchanged in co-cultures. Furthermore, in co-cultures of neurons and sciatic nerve fibroblasts neither of the three antibodies detected any changes in expression of antigens when pure and co-cultures were compared. These observations suggest that adhesion molecules are not only involved in neuron-Schwann cell recognition and neurite outgrowth on Schwann cells (Seilheimer, B., and M. Schachner. 1988. J. Cell Biol. 107: 341-351), but that cell interactions, in turn, modulate the extent of adhesion molecule expression.

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