Techniques are now available for culturing well characterized and purified Schwann cells. Therefore, we investigated the role of fibronectin in the adhesion, growth, and migration of cultured rat Schwann cells. Double-immunolabeling shows that, in primary cultures of rat sciatic nerve, Schwann cells (90%) rarely express fibronectin, whereas fibroblasts (10%) exhibit a granular cytoplasmic and fibrillar surface-associated fibronectin. Secondary cultures of purified Schwann cells do not express fibronectin. Exogenous fibronectin has a small effect on promoting the adhesion of Schwann cells to the substrate and does not significantly affect cell morphology, but it produced a surface fibrillar network on fibronectin on the secondary Schwann cells. Tritiated thymidine autoradiography revealed that addition of fibronectin to the medium, even at low concentrations, markedly stimulates Schwann cell proliferation, in both primary and secondary cultures. In addition, when cell migration was measured in a Boyden chamber assay, fibronectin was found to moderately, but clearly, stimulate directed migration or chemotaxis.

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