The neural cell adhesion molecule (N-CAM) mediates homophilic binding between a variety of cell types including neurons, neurons and glia, and neurons and muscle cells. The mechanism by which N-CAM on one cell interacts with N-CAM on another, however, is unknown. Attempts to identify which of the five immunoglobulin-like domains (Ig I-V) and the two fibronectin type III repeats (FnIII 1-2) in the extracellular region of N-CAM are involved in this process have led to ambiguous results. We have generated soluble recombinant proteins corresponding to each of the individual immunoglobulin domains and the combined FnIII 1-2 and prepared polyclonal antibodies specific for each. The purified proteins and antibodies were used in aggregation experiments with fluorescent microspheres and chicken embryo brain cells to determine possible contributions of each domain to homophilic adhesion. The recombinant domains were tested for their ability to bind to purified native N-CAM, to bind to each other, and to inhibit the aggregation of N-CAM on microspheres and the aggregation of neuronal cells. Each of the immunoglobulin domains bound to N-CAM, and in solution all of the immunoglobulin domains inhibited the aggregation of N-CAM-coated microspheres. Soluble Ig II, Ig III, and Ig IV inhibited neuronal aggregation; antibodies against whole N-CAM, the Ig III domain, and the Ig I domain all strongly inhibited neuronal aggregation, as well as the aggregation of N-CAM-coated microspheres. Of all the domains, the third immunoglobulin domain alone demonstrated the ability to self-aggregate, whereas Ig I bound to Ig V and Ig II bound to Ig IV. The combined FnIII 1-2 exhibited a slight ability to self-aggregate but did not bind to any of the immunoglobulin-like domains. These results suggest that N-CAM-N-CAM binding involves all five immunoglobulin domains and prompt the hypothesis that in homophilic cell-cell binding mediated by N-CAM these domains may interact pairwise in an antiparallel orientation.