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Studies on cultured Schwann cells: the induction of myelin synthesis, and the control of their proliferation by a new growth factor
J. P. Brockes, K. J. Fryxell, G. E. Lemke


We have recently described the use of immunological methods to identify and purify rat Schwann cells. In dissociated cultures of neonatal sciatic nerve, all of the cells can be identified by antigenic criteria as either Schwann cells or fibroblasts. The fibroblasts may be removed by treatment with antiserum to the Thy-1 antigen and complement. The purified Schwann cells have been used to study the regulation of the expression of myelin components, and the stimulation of Schwann cell division by a soluble growth factor. Among the components of myelin, we have concentrated on the peripheral myelin glycoprotein P0, which constitutes 50–60% of the protein in peripheral myelin. We have studied the distribution of P0 in vitro and in vivo by immunofluorescence, immuno-autoradiography on SDS gels, and solid-phase radioimmunoassay. Our results support the hypothesis that P0 is induced specifically as a consequence of the interaction between the Schwann cell and the myelinated type of axon. The level of P0 in the myelin membrane is at least 1000-fold higher than in the Schwann cell membrane. Purified Schwann cells divide very slowly in a conventional tissue culture medium. This has allowed us to purify a new growth factor from extracts of brain and pituitary, tentatively named Glial Growth Factor (GGF). The activity resides in a basic protein with a native molecular weight of 6 × 10(4) daltons and a subunit molecular weight of 3 × 10(4) daltons, which is active at levels comparable to those of epidermal growth factor. GGF is mitogenic for Schwann cells, astrocytes and muscle fibroblasts.