Schwann cells and the regrowth of axons in the mammalian CNS: a review of transplantation studies in the rat visual system

Alan Harvey, G.W. Plant, M.M.L. Tan

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42 Citations (Scopus)


1. We have used peripheral nerve transplants or cultured Schwann cells grafted in association with different types of polymer to study axonal regrowth in the rat visual system. In some instances the glia were co-grafted with fetal tectal tissue.2. The studies have two main aims: (i) to determine whether retinal axons can be induced to regrow at a site distant from their cell some, that is, after damage to the brachial region of the optic tract; (ii) to determine whether retinal axons exposed to Schwann cells retain the ability to recognize their appropriate target neurons in CNS tissue.3. In brachial lesion studies, Schwann cells were placed in the lesion site in association with nitrocellulose papers, within polycarbonate tubes in the presence or absence of a supporting extracellular matrix (ECM), or within polymer hydrogel scaffolds. Autologous sciatic nerve grafts were also used. Immunohistochemical studies revealed the presence of regenerating axons within all polymer bridges. Regrowth of retinal axons was also seen, however, growth was not extensive and was limited to the proximal 1-1.5 mm of the implants.4. In target innervation experiments, two surgical paradigms were developed. In one experiment, a segment of sciatic nerve was autografted onto the transected optic nerve in adult rats and the distal end of each graft was placed adjacent to fetal tectal (target) tissue implanted into the frontal cortex. To date, we have not been able to demonstrate selective recognition of target regions within tectal transplants by retinal axons exiting the sciatic nerve implants.5. In the second experiment, Schwann cells were mixed with fetal tectal cells and co-grafted to the midbrain of newborn host rats. Schwann cells altered the characteristic pattern of host retinal growth into tectal grafts; in some cases axons were induced to grow away from appropriate target areas by nearby eo-grafted Schwann cells.6. In summary, Schwann cell/polymer scaffolds may provide a useful way of promoting the regrowth of damaged axons in the CNS, however: (i) in adults, at least, their effectiveness is reduced if they are located at a distance from the cell bodies giving rise to regenerating axons; (ii) in some circumstances exposure to a peripheral glial environment may affect the capacity of regenerating axons to recognize appropriate target cells in the CNS neuropil.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-579
JournalClinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 1995


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