MK is a gene encoding a secreted heparin-binding polypeptide originally isolated by differential screening for genes induced by retinoic acid (RA) in HM-1 embryonal carcinoma cells. Here we report that MK is expressed at high levels in both embryonal carcinoma and pluripotential embryonic stem cells and their differentiated derivatives. MK expression in these cell types is unaffected by the presence or absence of RA. Recombinant MK protein (rMK) was produced by transient expression in COS cells and purified by heparin affinity chromatography. rMK is a weak mitogen for 10T1/2 fibroblast cells but inactive as a mitogen for Swiss 3T3 fibroblasts. rMK is a potent mitogen for neurectodermal precursor cell types generated by treatment of 1009 EC cells with RA but has no mitogenic or neurotrophic effects on more mature 1009-derived neuronal cell types. rMK is active as an in vitro neurotrophic factor for E12 chick sympathetic neurons and its activity is markedly potentiated by binding the factor to tissue-culture plastic in the presence of heparin. Stable 10T1/2 cells lines have been established which express MK. These cells do not exhibit any overt evidence of cell transformation but extracellular matrix preparations derived from these cells are a potent source of MK biological activity. It is concluded that MK is a multifunctional neuroregulatory molecule whose biological activity depends upon association with components of the extracellular matrix.

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