Balb/c 3T3 cells contain a large number [(0.8-1.6) x 10(6)] of high-affinity (half-maximal binding at 0.2 nM) binding sites for cholera toxin that are resistant to proteolysis, but are quantitatively extracted with chloroform/methanol. The following evidence rigorously establishes that the receptor is a ganglioside similar to, or identical with, ganglioside GM1 by the galactose oxidase/NaB3H4 technique on intact cells was inhibited by cholera toxin. (2) Ganglioside GM1 was specifically adsorbed from Nonidet P40 extracts of both surface- (galactose oxidase/NaB3H4 technique) and metabolically ([1-14C]palmitate) labelled cells in the presence of cholera toxin, anti-toxin and Staphylococcus aureus. (3) Ganglioside GM1 was the only ganglioside labelled when total cellular gangliosides separated on silica-gel sheets were overlayed with 125I-labelled cholera toxin, although GM3 and GD1a were the major gangliosides present. In contrast no evidence for a galactoprotein with receptor activity was obtained. Cholera toxin did not protect the terminal galactose residues of cell-surface glycoproteins from labelling by the galactose oxidase/NaB3H4 technique. No toxin-binding proteins could be identified in Nonidet P40 extracts of [35S]-methionine-labelled cells by immunochemical means. After sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis none of the major cellular galactoproteins identified by overlaying gels with 125I-labelled ricin were able to bind 125I-labelled cholera toxin. It is concluded that the cholera toxin receptor on Balb/c 3T3 cells is exclusively ganglioside GM1 (or a related species), and that cholera toxin can therefore be used to probe the function and organisation of gangliosides in these cells as previously outlined [Critchley, Ansell, Perkins, Dilks & Ingram (1979) J. Supramol. Struct. 12, 273-291].

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