Primary cultures of rat dorsal root ganglion Schwann cells were used to assay the efficacy of PC12 cells in stimulating Schwann cell proliferation. Co-cultures of PC12 cells and Schwann cells assayed by [3H]thymidine labeling followed by autoradiography showed proliferation of Schwann cells only where contact occurred between PC12 neurites and Schwann cells. Membranes derived from PC12 cells were shown to have many characteristics similar to membranes derived from sensory neurons; both could mimic whole cells in stimulating Schwann cell division; both were inactivated by mild heat treatment and by trypsinization, and both elevated intracellular cyclic AMP concentrations in Schwann cells 16 h after addition of membranes. We conclude that PC12 cells will be a valuable source for the isolation of the neuronal cell surface component which controls proliferation of Schwann cells during development of the peripheral nervous system.

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