Radioactive choline was used to study the metabolism and movement of choline-containing phospholipids in peripheral nerve myelin of adult mice. Incorporation at various times after intraperitoneal injection was measured in serial segments of sciatic nerve as well as in myelin isolated from those segments. At no time (1 h to 35 days) could a proximal-distal difference in the extent of labeling be demonstrated. This finding suggests that incorporation of precursor choline phospholipids into nerve membranes is a local event, with little contribution from the neuronal perikaryon via axoplasmic transport. Autoradiographic investigations were undertaken to elucidate the pattern of movement of radioactive choline-labeled phospholipids, predominantly lecithin, into the myelin sheaths of the sciatic nerve. A sequence of autoradiographs was prepared from animals sacrificed between 20 min and 35 days after a microinjection of precursor directly into the nerve. Analysis of these autoradiograms revealed that labeling is initially concentrated in the Schwann cell cytoplasm. Later, the label moves first into the outer regions of the myelin sheaths and is eventually distributed evenly throughout the inner and outer layers of the sheath. At no time is there a build-up of label in the axon. The rate of uptake of precursor and subsequent redistribution of lecithin into the myelin were also examined in frog sciatic nerve (18 degrees C). Both uptake and redistribution processes were considerably slower in the cold-blooded animal.

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