Schwann cells synthesize both hydrophobic and peripheral cell surface heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs). Previous analysis of the kinetics of radiolabeling suggested the peripheral HSPGs are derived from the membrane-anchored forms (Carey, D., and D. Evans. 1989. J. Cell Biol. 108:1891-1897). Peripheral cell surface HSPGs were purified from phytic acid extracts of cultured neonatal rat sciatic nerve Schwann cells by anion exchange, gel filtration, and laminin-affinity chromatography. Approximately 250 micrograms of HSPG protein was obtained from 2 X 10(9) cells with an estimated recovery of 23% and an overall purification of approximately 2000-fold. SDS-PAGE analysis indicated the absence of non-HSPG proteins in the purified material. Analysis of heparinase digestion products revealed the presence of at least six core protein species ranging in molecular weight from 57,000 to 185,000. The purified HSPGs were used to produce polyclonal antisera in rabbits. The antisera immunoprecipitated a subpopulation of 35SO4-labeled HSPGs that were released from Schwann cells by incubation in medium containing phosphatidylinositol-specific phospholipase C (PI-PLC); smaller amounts of immunoprecipated HSPGs were also present in phytic acid extracts. In the presence of excess unlabeled PI-PLC-released proteins, immunoprecipitation of phytic acid-solubilized HSPGs was inhibited. SDS-PAGE analysis of proteins immunoprecipitated from extracts of [35S]methionine labeled Schwann cells demonstrated that the antisera precipitated an HSPG species that was present in the pool of proteins released by PI-PLC, with smaller amounts present in phytic acid extracts. Nitrous acid degradation of the immunoprecipitated proteins produced a single 67,000-Mr core protein. When used for indirect immunofluorescence labeling, the antisera stained the external surface of cultured Schwann cells. Preincubation of the cultures in medium containing PI-PLC but not phytic acid significantly reduced the cell surface staining. The antisera stained the outer ring of Schwann cell membrane in sections of adult rat sciatic nerve but did not stain myelin or axonal membranes. This localization suggests the HSPG may play a role in binding the Schwann cell plasma membrane to the adjacent basement membrane surrounding the individual axon-Schwann cell units.

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