1983 Volume 46 Issue 2 Pages 243-257
Nerve segments approximately 6-7mm long were excised from the predegenerated sciatic nerves of mice, and treated 5 times by repetitive freezing and thawing to kill the Schwann cells. Such treated nerve segments were grafted into the original place, being in contact with the proximal stump of the sciatic nerve. The animals were sacrificed 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10 days, 2, 3, 5 and 8 weeks after the grafting. The grafts were examined at the middle level, i. e., about 3-4mm distal to the proximal end of the graft, by light and electron microscopy.
Within 2-3 days after the grafting, the dead Schwann cells were disintegrated into fragments and gradually phagocytized by macrophages. Howere, the basal laminae of the Schwann cells remained as empty tubes (basal lamina scaffolds). The notable finding was that the regenerating axons always grew through these basal lamina scaffolds. New Schwann cells seemed to migrate along these axons from the proximal stumps. The number of axons growing through the basal lamina scaffolds gradually increased with time. These axons were surrounded in a bundle by Schwann cells. About 1 week after the grafting, axons began to be segregated into smaller bundles by Schwann cells. Axons with a relatively large diameter (about 2μm) tended to be sorted out and surrounded by their own Schwann cells. The myelination began about 2 weeks after the grafting on such large diameter axons. The basal lamina scaffolds, through which the regenerating axons had grown, were gradually disintegrated into fragments by the expansive forces due to the increase in number and volume of the regenerating axons and Schwann cells. Groups of axons, which had been derived from the same basal lamina scaffolds, were enclosed with the cells resembling perineurial epithelial cells. These perineurial epithelial cells proliferated and further separated groups of axons into smaller ones or even into single axons. The number of myelinated axons increased with the advancement of regeneration.
These results show that the basal lamina scaffolds of Schwann cells serve as efficient conduits for the elongation, maintenance and maturation of regenerating axons.