Schwann cell migration through freeze-killed peripheral nerve grafts without accompanying axons
Optic nerves, both viable (fresh or pre-degenerate) or non-viable (frozen-thawed) were grafted between the proximal and distal stumps of freshly transected sciatic nerves, using either 10/0 sutures or strips of nitrocellulose paper. The majority of regenerating peripheral neurites, always in association with Schwann cells, avoided the viable optic nerve grafts, growing along the outside of the grafts in well vascularized minifascicles until they gained the distal stumps. A very small number of axons entered the grafts and grew, for distances typically less than 2 mm, between layers of astrocyte processes. The number of axons entering was not increased by using predegenerate grafts or by blocking Schwann cell proliferation in the proximal stumps by pre-treating the latter with mitomycin C. There was no evidence of a continuous cellular-acellular partition between graft and host during the outgrowth phase of the neurites: it was concluded that axons failed to enter the grafts as a result of inhibitory interactions between Schwann cells and astrocytes. When grafts were rendered acellular, all structured debris, including recognizable components of the extracellular matrix, was rapidly removed and the space thus vacated was invaded by manifascicles of Schwann cells and regenerating neurites. Glial fibrillary acidic protein-positive astrocytes and carbonic anhydrase II-positive oligodendrocytes persisted within viable grafts for 17 months; they did not migrate into the surrounding nerve.