Proliferation of Schwann cells is one of the first events that occurs after contact with a growing axon. To further define the distribution and properties of this axonal mitogen, we have (a) cocultured cerebellar granule cells, which lack glial ensheathment in vivo with Schwann cells; and (b) exposed Schwann cell cultures to isolated granule cell membranes. Schwann cells cocultured with granule cells had a 30-fold increase in the labeling index over Schwann cells cultured alone, suggesting that the mitogen is located on the granule cell surface. Inhibition of granule cell proteoglycan synthesis caused a decrease in the granule cells' ability to stimulate Schwann cell proliferation. Membranes isolated from cerebellar granule cells when added to Schwann cell cultures caused a 45-fold stimulation in [3H]thymidine incorporation. The granule cell mitogenic signal was heat and trypsin sensitive and did not require lysosomal processing by Schwann cells to elicit its proliferative effect. The ability of granule cells and their isolated membranes to stimulate Schwann cell proliferation suggests that the mitogenic signal for Schwann cells is a ubiquitous factor present on all axons regardless of their ultimate state of glial ensheathment.

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