The neural cell adhesion molecule N-CAM has been proposed to function in the guidance of outgrowing axons in the peripheral and central nervous system. Light microscopic observations have shown that the embryonic form of N-CAM (200-230 kDa) is present in the ventral most part of the dorsal funiculus during corticospinal tract (CST) ingrowth in the first postnatal week (Joosten, Dev. Brain Res., 78 (1994) 226-236). Here, the subcellular localization of the embryonic form of N-CAM (E-NCAM) is determined by pre-embedding staining on vibratome sections and by postembedding immunogold-labelling on Epon embedded spinal cord sections. The electron microscopical observations indicate that E-NCAM is present on the outer membrane of CST growth cones as well as other unmyelinated axons which are present in the ventral most part of the dorsal funiculus. Furthermore, E-NCAM is localized in an irregular patchy way on the outer side of the axonal membrane of small unmyelinated, later arriving CST axons. From these results it may be deduced that E-NCAM is involved in CST tract formation through guidance of outgrowing pioneer CST growth cones along other unmyelinated axons and through mediation of axon fasciculation of later arriving CST axons.
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