The sequence of changes occurring in transected rat sciatic nerve was examined by electron microscopy and by sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) polyacrylamide disc gel electrophoresis. Representative segments of transected nerves were processed for ultrastructural examinations between 0 and 34 days after the transection of sciatic nerves immediately below the sacro-sciatic notch. The remainder of the transected nerves and the intact portions of sciatic nerves were desheathed and immediately homogenized in 1 percent SDS containing 8 M urea and 50 mM dithioerythritol. Solubilized proteins were analyzed on 12 percent gels at pH 8.3 in a discontinuous electrophoretic system.

Initial changes were limited to the axons of transected nerve fibers and were characterized by the loss of microtubules and neurofilaments and their replacement by an amorphous floccular material. These changes became widespread between 24 and 48 h after transection. The disruption of neurofilaments during this interval occurred in parallel with a selective loss of 69,000, 150,000 and 200,000 mol wt proteins from nerve homogenates, thus corroborating the view that these proteins represent component subunits of mammalian neurofilaments. Furthermore, the selective changes of neurofilament proteins in transected nerves indicate their inherent lability and suggest their susceptibility to calcium-mediated alterations.

Electrophoretic profiles of nerve proteins during the 4-34-day interval after nerve transection reflected the breakdown and removal of myelin, the proliferation of Schwann cells and the deposition of endoneurial collagen. A marked increase of intermediate-sized filaments within proliferating Schwann cell processes was not accompanied by the appearance of neurofilamentlike proteins in gels of nerve homogenates.

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