The cellular and subcellular localization of the neural cell adhesion molecules L1, N-CAM, and myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG), their shared carbohydrate epitope L2/HNK-1, and the myelin basic protein (MBP) were studied by pre- and post-embedding immunoelectron microscopic labeling procedures in developing mouse sciatic nerve. L1 and N-CAM showed a similar staining pattern. Both were localized on small, non-myelinated, fasciculating axons and axons ensheathed by non-myelinating Schwann cells. Schwann cells were also positive for L1 and N-CAM in their non-myelinating state and at the onset of myelination, when the Schwann cell processes had turned approximately 1.5 loops. Thereafter, neither axon nor Schwann cell could be detected to express the L1 antigen, whereas N-CAM was found in the periaxonal area and, more weakly, in compact myelin of myelinated fibers. Compact myelin, Schmidt-Lanterman incisures, paranodal loops, and finger-like processes of Schwann cells at nodes of Ranvier were L1-negative. At the nodes of Ranvier, the axolemma was also always L1- and N-CAM-negative. The L2/HNK-1 carbohydrate epitope coincided in its cellular and subcellular localization most closely to that observed for L1. MAG appeared on Schwann cells at the time L1 expression ceased. MAG was then expressed at sites of axon-myelinating Schwann cell apposition and non-compacted loops of developing myelin. When compaction of myelin occurred, MAG remained present only at the axon-Schwann cell interface; Schmidt-Lanterman incisures, inner and outer mesaxons, and paranodal loops, but not at finger-like processes of Schwann cells at nodes of Ranvier or compacted myelin. All three adhesion molecules and the L2/HNK-1 epitope could be detected in a non-uniform staining pattern in basement membrane of Schwann cells and collagen fibrils of the endoneurium. MBP was detectable in compacted myelin, but not in Schmidt-Lanterman incisures, inner and outer mesaxon, paranodal loops, and finger-like processes at nodes of Ranvier, nor in the periaxonal regions of myelinated fibers, thus showing a complementary distribution to MAG. These studies show that axon-Schwann cell interactions are characterized by the sequential appearance of cell adhesion molecules and MBP apparently coordinated in time and space. From this sequence it may be deduced that L1 and N-CAM are involved in fasciculation, initial axon-Schwann cell interaction, and onset of myelination, with MAG to follow and MBP to appear only in compacted myelin. In contrast to L1, N-CAM may be further involved in the maintenance of compact myelin and axon-myelin apposition of larger diameter axons.

This content is only available as a PDF.