In healthy adult peripheral nerve, Schwann cells are believed to be generally quiescent. Similarly, cultures of isolated rat sciatic nerve Schwann cells hardly proliferate in serum-supplemented medium. The possibility that Schwann cells negatively regulate their own proliferation was supported by the demonstration that conditioned media from Schwann cell cultures inhibited the proliferation of mitogen-stimulated test cultures. The inhibition could be complete, was dose dependent, and was exhibited when the test Schwann cells were under the influence of different types of mitogens such as cholera toxin, laminin, and living neurons. The inhibition of proliferation was completely reversible and a rapid doubling of cell number resulted when treatment with conditioned medium was withdrawn from mitogen-stimulated Schwann cells. Conditioned medium from cholera toxin-stimulated and immortalized Schwann cell cultures contained less antiproliferative activity than that found in medium from quiescent Schwann cell cultures. However, media conditioned by two actively proliferating rat Schwannoma cell lines were rich sources of antiproliferative activity for Schwann cells. Unlike the mitogen-stimulated Schwann cells, whose proliferation could be inhibited completely, the immortalized and transformed Schwann cell types were nearly unresponsive to the antiproliferative activity. The antiproliferative activity in Schwann and Schwannoma cell conditioned media was submitted to gel filtration and SDS-PAGE. The activity exists in at least two distinct forms: (a) a high molecular weight complex with an apparent molecular mass greater than 1,000 kD, and (b) a lower molecular weight form having a molecular mass of 55 kD. The active 55-kD form could be derived from the high molecular weight form by gel filtration performed under dissociating conditions. The 55-kD form was further purified to electrophoretic homogeneity. These results suggest that Schwann cells produce an autocrine factor, which we designate as a "neural antiproliferative protein," which completely inhibits the in vitro proliferation of Schwann cells but not that of immortalized Schwann cells or Schwannoma lines.

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