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J Neurosci. 2011 Feb 23;31(8):3032-43. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4345-10.2011.

Assessing the role of the cadherin/catenin complex at the Schwann cell-axon interface and in the initiation of myelination.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90033, USA.


Myelination is dependent on complex reciprocal interactions between the Schwann cell (SC) and axon. Recent evidence suggests that the SC-axon interface represents a membrane specialization essential for myelination; however, the manner in which this polarized-apical domain is generated remains a mystery. The cell adhesion molecule N-cadherin is enriched at the SC-axon interface and colocalizes with the polarity protein Par-3. The asymmetric localization is induced on SC-SC and SC-axon contact. Knockdown of N-cadherin in SCs cocultured with DRG neurons disrupts Par-3 localization and delays the initiation of myelination. However, knockdown or overexpression of neuronal N-cadherin does not influence the distribution of Par-3 or myelination, suggesting that homotypic interactions between SC and axonal N-cadherin are not essential for the events surrounding myelination. To further investigate the role of N-cadherin, mice displaying SC-specific gene ablation of N-cadherin were generated and characterized. Surprisingly, myelination is only slightly delayed, and mice are viable without any detectable myelination defects. β-Catenin, a downstream effector of N-cadherin, colocalizes and coimmunoprecipitates with N-cadherin on the initiation of myelination. To determine whether β-catenin mediates compensation on N-cadherin deletion, SC-specific gene ablation of β-catenin was generated and characterized. Consistent with our hypothesis, myelination is more severely delayed than when manipulating N-cadherin alone, but without any defect to the myelin sheath. Together, our results suggest that N-cadherin interacts with β-catenin in establishing SC polarity and the timely initiation of myelination, but they are nonessential components for the formation and maturation of the myelin sheath.

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