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J Neurosci. 1997 Mar 1;17(5):1642-59.

Expression of neuregulins and their putative receptors, ErbB2 and ErbB3, is induced during Wallerian degeneration.

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  • 1Division of Neuropathology, Department of Pathology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri 63110, USA.


Schwann cell dedifferentiation and proliferation is a prerequisite to axonal regeneration in the injured peripheral nervous system. The neuregulin (NRG) family of growth and differentiation factors may play a particularly important role in this process, because these axon-associated molecules are potent Schwann cell mitogens and differentiation factors in vitro. We have examined Schwann cell DNA synthesis and the expression of NRGs and their receptors, the erbB membrane tyrosine kinases, in rat sciatic nerve, sensory ganglia, and spinal cord 0-30 d postaxotomy. Analysis of NRG cDNAs from these tissues revealed several novel splice variants and showed that cells endogenous to injured nerve express NRG mRNAs. A selective induction of mRNAs encoding the glial growth factor (GGF) subfamily of NRGs occurs in nerve beginning 3 d postaxotomy and thus coincides with the onset of Schwann cell DNA synthesis. In later stages of Wallerian degeneration, however, Schwann cell mitogenesis markedly decreases, whereas elevated GGF expression persists. Of the four known erbB kinases, Schwann cells express both erbB2 and erbB3 receptors over the entire interval studied. Expression of erbB2 and erbB3 is coordinately induced in response to axotomy, indicating that Schwann cell responses to NRGs may be modulated by changes in receptor density. Neuregulin (including transmembrane precursors) and erbB protein are associated with Schwann cells postaxotomy. Thus, in contrast to the concept of NRGs as axon-associated mitogens, our findings suggest that NRGs produced by Schwann cells themselves may be partially responsible for Schwann cell proliferation during Wallerian degeneration, probably acting via autocrine or paracrine mechanisms.

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