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Handb Clin Neurol. 2013;115:55-79. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-52902-2.00005-9.

Biology of Schwann cells.

Author information

1
Department of Neuroscience, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Electronic address: kiddg@ccf.org.

Abstract

The fundamental roles of Schwann cells during peripheral nerve formation and regeneration have been recognized for more than 100 years, but the cellular and molecular mechanisms that integrate Schwann cell and axonal functions continue to be elucidated. Derived from the embryonic neural crest, Schwann cells differentiate into myelinating cells or bundle multiple unmyelinated axons into Remak fibers. Axons dictate which differentiation path Schwann cells follow, and recent studies have established that axonal neuregulin1 signaling via ErbB2/B3 receptors on Schwann cells is essential for Schwann cell myelination. Extracellular matrix production and interactions mediated by specific integrin and dystroglycan complexes are also critical requisites for Schwann cell-axon interactions. Myelination entails expansion and specialization of the Schwann cell plasma membrane over millimeter distances. Many of the myelin-specific proteins have been identified, and transgenic manipulation of myelin genes have provided novel insights into myelin protein function, including maintenance of axonal integrity and survival. Cellular events that facilitate myelination, including microtubule-based protein and mRNA targeting, and actin based locomotion, have also begun to be understood. Arguably, the most remarkable facet of Schwann cell biology, however, is their vigorous response to axonal damage. Degradation of myelin, dedifferentiation, division, production of axonotrophic factors, and remyelination all underpin the substantial regenerative capacity of the Schwann cells and peripheral nerves. Many of these properties are not shared by CNS fibers, which are myelinated by oligodendrocytes. Dissecting the molecular mechanisms responsible for the complex biology of Schwann cells continues to have practical benefits in identifying novel therapeutic targets not only for Schwann cell-specific diseases but other disorders in which axons degenerate.

KEYWORDS:

Schwann cell; axon; axon regeneration; dysmyelination; extracellular matrix; myelin; myelin protein; myelination; peripheral nerve; peripheral nerve disease; protein targeting; remyelination

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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