Peripheral nerve injury is followed by Wallerian degeneration which is characterized by cellular and molecular events that turn the degenerating nerve into a tissue that supports nerve regeneration. One of these is the removal, by phagocytosis, of myelin that contains molecules which inhibit regeneration. We have recently documented that the scavenger macrophage and Schwann cells express the galactose-specific lectin MAC-2 which is significant to myelin phagocytosis. In the present study we provide evidence for a mechanism leading to the augmented expression of cell surface MAC-2. Nerve lesion causes noneuronal cells, primarily fibroblasts, to produce the cytokine granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF). In turn, GM-CSF induces Schwann cells and macrophages to up-regulate surface expression of MAC-2. The proposed mechanism is based on the following novel observations. GM-CSF mRNA was detected by PCR in in vitro and in vivo degenerating nerves, but not in intact nerves. The GM-CSF molecule was detected by ELISA in medium conditioned by in vitro and in vivo degenerating peripheral nerves as of the 4th h after injury. GM-CSF activity was demonstrated by two independent bioassays, and repressed by activity blocking antibodies. Significant levels of GM-CSF were produced by nerve derived fibroblasts, but neither by Schwann cells nor by nerve derived macrophages. Mouse rGM-CSF enhanced MAC-2 production in nerve explants, and up-regulated cell surface expression of MAC-2 by Schwann cells and macrophages. Interleukin-1 beta up-regulated GM-CSF production thus suggesting that injury induced GM-CSF production may be mediated by interleukin-1 beta. Our findings highlight the fact that fibroblasts, by producing GM-CSF and thereby affecting macrophage and Schwann function, play a significant role in the cascade of molecular events and cellular interactions of Wallerian degeneration.

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