Schwann cells and myelin in human peripheral nerve: Major protein components vary with age, axon size and pathology

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Aims: We examined major protein components of Schwann cells (SCs) and myelin in normal and diseased human peripheral nerves. Methods: We evaluated distributions of neural cell adhesion molecule (NCAM), P0 protein (P0) and myelin basic protein (MBP) in frozen sections of 98 sural nerves. Results: Non-myelinating SC in normal adults contained NCAM, but not P0 or MBP. With chronic axon loss, SC without associated axons (Büngner band cells) often co-stained for both NCAM and P0. Onion bulb cells also co-stained for both P0 and NCAM. Infants had many SC with MBP but no P0. All myelin sheaths contained P0. Myelin around large, and some intermediate-sized, axons co-stained for both MBP and P0. Myelin on other intermediate-sized axons had P0, but no MBP. Regenerated axons often had sheaths with MBP, P0 and some NCAM. During active axon degeneration, myelin ovoids often co-stained for MBP, P0 and NCAM. Demyelinating neuropathy patterns included SC (NCAM) loss, and myelin with abnormally distributed, or reduced, P0. Conclusions: Peripheral nerve SC and myelin have varied molecular phenotypes, related to age, axon size and nerve pathology. In normal adult peripheral nerve, myelin has two different patterns of molecular composition. MBP is mostly absent from myelin around a population of intermediate-sized axons, whereas P0 is present in myelin around all axons. Denervated SCs have a molecular signature that differs from normal SC types. With acute denervation, SCs may stain for both NCAM and MBP. Chronically denervated SCs often stain for both NCAM and P0.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12898
JournalNeuropathology and Applied Neurobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Schwann cells
  • axon
  • myelin
  • nerve
  • neuropathy


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