The basis for diminished functional recovery after delayed peripheral nerve repair.
Schwann cells in the distal stump of injured peripheral nerves synthesize the low affinity nerve growth factor receptor (p75). In this study we used short-term (1 week) and long-term (1-12 months) transected distal sciatic nerves of rats to determine the variations of p75 expression by using immunocytochemistry and in situ hybridization. Semi-quantitative analysis revealed that the synthesis of the protein product of the p75 gene is rapidly enhanced to reach a peak within the 1 month after denervation. After that it gradually decreased and was barely detectable 6 months following denervation. Double immunocytochemistry for p75 and the S100 protein revealed that p75 immunoreactivity is confined to the Schwann cells. Quantitative analysis of our in situ hybridization experiments revealed that the upregulation of the p75 mRNA parallels the enhanced synthesis of the corresponding protein and reaches a peak within 1 month, which is maintained until the second month after the transection and declines thereafter to reach background levels at 4 months. The electron microscopic observations reveal that the increase in the number of nuclei in the distal stump belong to severely atrophied Schwann cells and fibroblasts. Since the presence of p75 in the Schwann cells is necessary for reinnervation, our results indicate that, based on the expression of p75, the Schwann cells will provide a most suitable environment for the regenerating axons up to the first month. At later stages the ability of the Schwann cells to synthesize p75 and cell adhesion proteins such as N-CAM and GAP 43 decreases which may be one of the factors that contribute to poor functional recovery if the regenerating axons reach the distal stump after long periods of time.