Evidence That Secondary Rat Schwann Cells in Culture Maintain Their Differentiated Phenotype

Lynn Rutkowski, Leila Needham, Karen Frayer, Daniel Carson, Guy McKhann, Gihan I. Tennekoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Abstract: Schwann cells, on receiving the correct signal, will encircle an axon and wrap it with a myelin sheath. To begin examining some of the mechanisms underlying the process of myelination in vitro, we isolated Schwann cells from the sciatic nerves of neonatal rats and generated large cell populations with cholera toxin. The immunological and biochemical properties of these secondary Schwann cells were characterized after five to seven passages in the absence of axonal contact. These cells continued to express antigens found in both myelinating (P0 and 2′,3′‐cyclic nucleotide phosphohydrolase) and nonmyelinating cells in vivo (A5E3 and glial fibrillary acidic protein) in addition to the markers common to both types of cells (Ran‐1, 217c, S‐100, and laminin). Biochemical analyses showed that these cells synthesize the very‐long‐chain fatty acids (22–26 carbon atoms) found in myelin membranes. Moreover, the enzymes required for the synthesis of myelin glycolipids (including sphingosine acyltransferase, UDP‐galactose:ceramide galactosyltransferase, and cerebroside sulfotransferase) were still active, and metabolic labeling studies showed that galactocerebroside and sulfatide were synthesized even though the galactocerebroside pool was insufficient to be detected by immunostaining. Secondary Schwann cells also synthesized four species of myelin basic protein and the major structural glycoprotein in myelin, P0. The pathway necessary for glycosylation of P0 protein remained active, and an analysis of the oligosaccharide chain revealed that 70% was processed to a complex form. In summary, we found that secondary Schwann cells still express most of the immunological markers of differentiated cells and continue to synthesize low levels of myelin components. Therefore, Schwann cells do not dedifferentiate in culture, as previously believed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1895-1904
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurochemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1990


  • Differentiation
  • Glycolipids
  • Myelin proteins
  • Schwann cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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