, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 102-117

Fibroblasts are required for Schwann cell basal lamina deposition and ensheathment of unmyelinated sympathetic neurites in culture

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The ability to purify and recombine populations of peripheral neurons, Schwann cells and fibroblasts in tissue culture has enabled us to examine the contribution of fibroblasts to Schwann cell basal lamina assembly and ensheathment of unmyelinated rat superior cervical ganglion neuritesin vitro. Purified perinatal superior cervical ganglion neurons were grown in culture either with Schwann cells or with Schwann cells plus fibroblasts derived from either superior cervical ganglion capsule or cranial periosteum. The cultures were maintained for 2–8 weeks on a collagen substratum in a medium known to promote Schwann cell differentiation (myelin, basal lamina formation) in the presence of dorsal root ganglion neurons. The extent of Schwann cell differentiation (ensheathment, basal lamina formation) in the presence of superior cervical ganglion neurons was evaluated in this study using electron microscopy. In superior cervical ganglion neuron plus Schwann cell cultures (without fibroblasts), Schwann cells achieved only a moderate degree of ensheathment; also, Schwann cell basal lamina was discontinuous and extracellular collagen fibrils were sparse. Although only discontinuous basal lamina was demonstrable by electron microscopy in these cultures, surprisingly, Schwann cell/neurite fascicles were uniformly immunostained for laminin, type IV collagen, and heparan sulfate proteoglycan. The addition of fibroblasts to superior cervical ganglion neuron plus Schwann cell cultures increased the deposition of basal lamina around the Schwann cell/neurite units, the number of collagen fibrils, and the extent of neurite ensheathment. We propose that the presence of basal lamina increases the Schwann cell's ability to ensheathe superior cervical ganglion neurites, possibly through an augmentation of specific extracellular matrix components or by increasing in some way the capacity of these components to become organized into basal lamina. We conclude that, unlike dorsal root ganglion neurons, superior cervical ganglion neurons are unable to stimulate full Schwann cell extracellular matrix expression with the result that these Schwann cells require the extraneuronal influence of fibroblasts to deposit basal lamina and attain their mature phenotype in culture.