We have investigated the influence of the neural cell adhesion molecules L1 and N-CAM on second messenger systems using a PC12 rat pheochromocytoma cell line as a model and triggering cell surface receptors by specific antibody binding. Antibodies directed against L1 and N-CAM, but not against other cell surface components, reduce intracellular levels of the inositol phosphates IP2 and IP3, while intracellular levels of cAMP are unaffected. Antibodies against L1 and N-CAM also reduce intracellular pH and increase intracellular Ca2+ by opening Ca2+ channels in a pertussis toxin-inhibitable manner, suggesting the involvement of a G protein in the signal transduction process. Cross-linking of the adhesion molecules on the surface membrane is not required for the effects to occur. Furthermore, adhesion of single PC12 cells to each other elicits effects on intracellular pH and Ca2+ similar to those seen after application, underscoring the physiological significance of the observed changes.