The extracellular matrix glycoprotein, fibronectin, is a potent promoter of peripheral neurite outgrowth. Interactions of peripheral neurons with fibronectin have been shown to be primarily mediated by the beta 1 class of integrin heterodimers. In the present study, we have examined the expression and regulation of fibronectin and its integrin receptor, alpha 5 beta 1, in developing and regenerating chick peripheral nerve. We show that fibronectin and alpha 5 beta 1 are expressed at comparatively high levels in developing nerve with alpha 5 beta 1 expression on axons and non-neuronal cells. With nerve maturation, both proteins are less prominently expressed and the cellular pattern of alpha 5 beta 1 expression becomes more restricted. Following lesion of mature nerve, both fibronectin and alpha 5 beta 1 are strongly induced with prominent expression of alpha 5 beta 1 on regenerating neurites and Schwann cells. The elevation in fibronectin levels in the regenerating nerve is highest in the vicinity of the lesion, an area undergoing extensive cellular remodeling including Schwann cell migration and growth cone extension. Our results suggest that fibronectin and its receptor, alpha 5 beta 1, may mediate functionally important interactions in the development and regeneration of peripheral nerve.

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