Cultures of whole fetal rat sensory ganglia which had matured and myelinated in culture were treated for 1-3 h with a pulse of 0.2% trypsin. The tissue was observed during the period of treatment and during subsequent weeks using both light and electron microscopy. Within minutes after trypsin addition the matrix of the culture was altered and the nerve fascicles loosened. Progressive changes included the retraction of Schwann cell processes from the nodal region the detachment of the myelin-related paranodal Schwann cell loops from the axon, and lengthening of the nodal region as the axon was bared. The retraction of myelin from nodal stabilized several hours after trypsin withdrawal. Breakdown of the altered myelin segments was rare. There were no discernable changes in neurons or their processes after this exposure to trypsin. The partial repair which occured over a period of several weeks included the reattachment of paranodal Schwann cell loops to the axolemma and the insertion of new myelin segments where a substantial length of axolemma had been bared. The significance of these observations to the characterization of the Schwann cell-axolemmal junctions on myelinated nerve fibers is discussed. The dramatic degree of myelin change that can occur without concomitant myelin breakdown is particularly noted, as is the observation that these altered myelin segments are, in part, repaired.

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