If skeletal muscles are denervated, the number of mononucleated cells in the connective tissue between muscle fibers increases. Since interstitial cells might remodel extracellular matrix, and since extracellular matrix in nerve and muscle plays a direct role in reinnervation of the sites of the original neuromuscular junctions, we sought to determine whether interstitial cell accumulation differs between junctional and extrajunctional regions of denervated muscle. We found in muscles from frog and rat that the increase in interstitial cell number was severalfold (14-fold for frog, sevenfold for rat) greater in the vicinity of junctional sites than in extrajunctional regions. Characteristics of the response at the junctional sites of frog muscles are as follows. During chronic denervation, the accumulation of interstitial cells begins within 1 wk and it is maximal by 3 wk. Reinnervation 1-2 wk after nerve damage prevents the maximal accumulation. Processes of the cells form a multilayered veil around muscle fibers but make little, if any, contact with the muscle cell or its basal lamina sheath. The results of additional experiments indicate that the accumulated cells do not originate from terminal Schwann cells or from muscle satellite cells. Most likely the cells are derived from fibroblasts that normally occupy the space between muscle fibers and are known to make and degrade extracellular matrix components.

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