Protein synthesis in the nerve sheath of injured as well as intact mature and developing sciatic nerves from rat and rabbit was investigated by incubating segments of nerve with [35S]methionine in vitro. The composition of labeled proteins under the different conditions of nerve growth was analyzed by two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and fluorography. The expression of six secreted proteins in rat sciatic nerve with the apparent molecular weights of 70,000 (70 kD), 54,000 (54 kD), 51,000 (51 kD), 39,000 (39 kD), 37,000 (37 kD), and 30,000 (30 kD) was of particular interest because of the correlation of their synthesis and secretion with aspects of nerve growth and regeneration. The synthesis of the 37-kD protein was significantly stimulated during both sciatic nerve development as well as regeneration but not in the intact mature nerve. The expression of this protein appears to be regulated by signal(s) from the axon but not the target. The 70-kD protein was exclusively synthesized in response to axotomy, thus confining its role to some aspect(s) of nerve repair. In contrast, the 54- and 51-kD proteins were expressed in the intact mature nerve sheath. Their synthesis and release was rapidly inhibited upon axotomy but returned to normal or higher levels towards the end of sciatic nerve regeneration, suggesting a role in the maintenance of the integrity of the mature (nongrowing) rat nerve. The 39- and 30-kD proteins were only transiently synthesized within the first week after axotomy. Two proteins with the apparent molecular masses of 70 and 37 kD were synthesized in denervated rabbit sciatic nerve. The similar molecular weights, net charges, and time-courses of induction suggest a homology between these proteins in rabbit and rat, indicating common molecular responses of peripheral nerve sheath cells to axon injury in both mammalian species.

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