We have studied the functional involvement of J1-160 and J1-180 in the interaction between oligodendrocytes and neurons, astrocytes, or L cells in short- and long-term adhesion assays using monoclonal antibodies directed against topographically distinct epitopes on the molecules. Whereas antibodies to mouse liver membranes and monoclonal antibody 597 do not interfere with neuron-oligodendrocyte or astrocyte-oligodendrocyte adhesion after 30 min of coculture, antibodies 596, 619, and 620 interfere with astrocyte to oligodendrocyte and neuron to oligodendrocyte adhesion. The adhesion of L cells to oligodendrocytes is not affected by the antibodies. When neurons or astrocytes are cultured on oligodendrocytes for more than 30 min, monoclonal antibody 619 continues to reduce adhesion of astrocytes to oligodendrocytes after 1 and 2 h. However, during this time period the antibody affects neuron to oligodendrocyte adhesion in a different manner. It does not interfere with adhesion of neurons to oligodendrocytes at 1 h and enhances the adhesion of neurons to oligodendrocytes after 2 h of coculture. After 6 and 24 h of coculture, antibody 619 does not affect the adhesion of neurons or astrocytes to oligodendrocytes, suggesting that other adhesive mechanisms are predominant at later times of interaction. At all times studied, neurons and astrocytes adhered well to the oligodendrocytes. To study the influence of the J1 molecules on neuronal interactions in the absence of other oligodendrocyte-derived cell surface components, purified J1-160 was coated as a substrate and neuron attachment was measured as a function of time. Two hours after plating neurons adhered well to J1-160, as they did to laminin, while cell detachment was subsequently observed from J1-160, but not from laminin. These results implicate J1-160 and J1-180 in a recognition process between oligodendrocytes and neurons or astrocytes, but not fibroblasts. This recognition process appears to merge into adhesion or stabilization of cell contacts for astrocytes and destabilization of cell interactions or repulsion for neurons. It is likely that these two opposite effects in cell behavior elicited by the J1 molecules result from differential intracellular responses to a cell surface trigger possibly mediated by different cell surface receptors and/or different consequences in intracellular signaling networks.