Activin is a nerve cell survival molecule

Nature. 1990 Apr 26;344(6269):868-70. doi: 10.1038/344868a0.


The structures of five neurotrophic molecules have so far been published. Nerve growth factor, fibroblast growth factor and purpurin, have been identified as nerve-cell survival molecules. More recently, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and ciliary neurotrophic factor have been cloned and sequenced. As all these proteins stimulate the survival of ciliary or sensory neurons, a new cell survival assay is required if novel neurotrophic molecules are to be discovered. P19 teratoma cells differentiate to nerve-like cells in the presence of 5 x 10(-7) M retinoic acid (RA). But when P19 cells are plated in N2 synthetic medium without being exposed to RA, they die within 48 h. In an attempt to identify a molecule(s) that can substitute for RA in promoting P19 survival, we assayed serum-free growth-conditioned media for their ability to promote P19 survival. One cell line from the rat eye secreted a molecule that promoted the survival of P19 cells and some types of nerve cell. We identified this molecule as activin, better known for its role in hormone secretion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Activins
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Culture Media
  • Eye
  • Immunoblotting
  • Inhibins / isolation & purification
  • Inhibins / physiology*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Rats
  • Teratoma
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Culture Media
  • Activins
  • Inhibins