In the developing peripheral nerve, Schwann cells proliferate rapidly and then become quiescent, an essential step in control of Schwann cell differentiation. Cell proliferation is controlled by growth factors that can exert positive or inhibitory influences on DNA synthesis. It has been well established that neonatal Schwann cells divide very slowly in culture when separated from neurons but here we show that when culture was continued for several months some cells began to proliferate rapidly and non-clonal lines of immortalised Schwann cells were established which could be passaged for over two years. These cells had a similar molecular phenotype to short-term cultured Schwann cells, except that they expressed intracellular and cell surface fibronectin. The difference in proliferation rates between short- and long-term cultured Schwann cells appeared to be due in part to the secretion by short-term cultured Schwann cells of growth inhibitory activity since DNA synthesis of long-term, immortalised Schwann cells was inhibited by conditioned medium from short-term cultures. This conditioned medium also inhibited DNA synthesis in short-term Schwann cells stimulated to divide by glial growth factor or elevation of intracellular cAMP. The growth inhibitory activity was not detected in the medium of long-term immortalised Schwann cells, epineurial fibroblasts, a Schwannoma (33B), astrocytes or a fibroblast-like cell-line (3T3) and it did not inhibit serum-induced DNA synthesis in epineurial fibroblasts, 33B cells or 3T3 cells. The activity was apparently distinct from transforming growth factor-beta, activin, IL6, epidermal growth factor, atrial natriuretic peptide and gamma-interferon and was heat and acid stable, resistant to collagenase and destroyed by trypsin treatment. We raise the possibility that loss of an inhibitory autocrine loop may contribute to the rapid proliferation of long-term cultured Schwann cells and that an autocrine growth inhibitor may have a role in the cessation of Schwann cell division that precedes differentiation in peripheral nerve development.

This content is only available via PDF.