Schwann cells and deleted in colorectal carcinoma direct regenerating motor axons towards their original path.
It is known that regenerating axons emerging from the proximal stump of a transected nerve are attracted towards the distal stump. It is not certain whether this neurotropic effect is on the axons themselves or whether it is on supporting cells such as Schwann cells that the axons then follow. In order to investigate this question in rats, segments of the sciatic nerve were either isolated or removed and reinserted as grafts, and then sutured into the opposing ends of double-Y silicone tubes. In these tubes, a central conduit was formed by connecting the centrally facing limb of each Y tube. The nerve segments were sutured into one of the limbs at either end. The third limbs of the Y tubes formed side arms, one of which was left open; a plug of mobilised fatty connective tissue was sutured into the other. A gap of 6 mm was left between the cut ends and the fat pads (or openings from the side arms). After 2-3 wk a significantly greater outgrowth (P < 0.001) was found to link the nerve segments than to invade the side arms. The major cell component in the outgrowth was Schwann cells, supported by fibroblasts and capillaries and surrounded by a lamellated layer of flattened fibroblasts. The growth into the side arms had a looser cellular architecture and contained considerably fewer Schwann cells. The results strongly suggest the existence of mutual attraction between emigrant Schwann cells, or possibly endoneurial fibroblasts, from the 2 cut ends of transected nerves. This conclusion has implications for the guidance of axons across gaps in nerves. It does not exclude an additional neurotropic effect from the distal stump on axons.