Epidermal growth factor (EGF), over a low range of concentrations (165–825 pM), induced neuritogenesis in post-mitotic chick CNS precursor neurons cultured in a serum-free medium, without the addition of other growth factors. Antibody to EGF blocks the neurite-promoting activity of EGF. Similarl, neuritogenesis of cultured chick CNS neurons in medium supplemented with 20% fetal bovine serum is blocked by antibody to EGF, even though serum may contain other neuronotrophic bioactive proteins and steroids.
Quantitatively, the only major gangliosides of the undifferentiated post-mitotic neurons are GD3 and GD2.1 GD3 as well as its biosynthetic precursor, GM3, undergo active biosynthesis in serum-free medium as evidenced by their vigorous labeling by radioactive galactose supplied in the culture medium. When the undifferentiated neurons in serum-free medium are exposed to EGF, the ensuing generation of neurite plasma membrane coincides with initiation of biosyn thesis of the sialosyl gangliotetraosyl ceramide species of gangliosides (GD1A, GD1B, GT1B, GQ1B). Antibody to EGF simultaneously inhibits biosynthesis of these gangliosides as well as inhibition of neuritogenesis.
These findings indicate that EGF may be a primary neurite-inducing growth factor for post-mitotic embryonic CNS neurons and that gangliosides, particularly those of the sialosyl gangliotetraosyl ceramide species, characterize the plasma membrane of CNS neurons during neuritogenesis.