The present experiments were designed to clarify the relationship between cAMP elevation, proliferation and differentiation in Schwann cells. They were carried out on short-term cultures of cells obtained from neonatal rat sciatic nerves. It was found that the myelin-related phenotype was expressed in response to agents that elevate or mimic intracellular cAMP (forskolin, cholera toxin, cAMP analogues), provided cell division was absent. This phenotype included upregulation of the major myelin protein P0 and downregulation of GFAP, N-CAM, A5E3, and NGF receptor. In contrast, when cells were cultured in conditions where cell division occurred, elevation of intracellular cAMP produced an alternative response, characterized by DNA synthesis and absence of myelin-related differentiation. The cAMP mediated induction of an early Schwann cell antigen, 04, followed a different pattern since it was induced equally in dividing and nondividing cells. These observations are consistent with the proposal that during development of the rat sciatic nerve: (a) cAMP elevation, possibly induced by axon-associated factors, is a primary signal responsible for the induction of 04 expression in proliferating Schwann cells during the premyelination period; (b) subsequent withdrawal of cells associated with the larger axons from the cell cycle acts as a permissive secondary signal for induction of myelination, since in quiescent cells the ongoing cAMP elevation will trigger myelination.

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