A time-sequence study of the incorporation and distribution of cholesterol in peripheral nerve myelin was carried out by electron microscope autoradiography. [1,2-3H]Cholesterol was injected into 10-day old mice and the sciatic nerves were dissected out at 10, 20, 40, 60, 90, 120, and 180 min after the injection. 20 min after injection the higher densities of grains due to the presence of [3H]cholesterol were confined to the outer and inner edges of the myelin sheath. Practically no cholesterol was detected in the midzone of the myelin sheath. 1 ½ h after injection, cholesterol showed a wider distribution within the myelin sheath, the higher densities of grains occurring over the two peripheral myelin bands, each approximately 3,100 Å wide. Cholesterol was also present in the center of the myelin sheath but to a considerably lesser extent. 3 h after injection cholesterol appeared homogeneously distributed within the myelin sheath. Schwann cell and axon compartments were also labeled at each time interval studied beginning 20 min postinjection. These observations indicate that preformed cholesterol enters myelin first and almost simultaneously through the inner and outer edges of the sheath; only after 90 min does the density of labeled cholesterol in the central zone of myelin reach the same density as that in the outer and inner zones. These findings suggest that cholesterol used by the nerve fibers in the formation and maintenance of the myelin sheath enters the lamellae from the Schwann cell cytoplasm and from the axon. The possibility of a bidirectional movement of molecules, i.e. from the Schwann cell to the axon and from the axon to the Schwann cell through the myelin sheath, is noted. The results are discussed in the light of recent observations on the exchange, reutilization, and transaxonal movement of cholesterol.

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