The secretion of the protease plasminogen activator (PA) by cells of developing peripheral nerve was demonstrated. Fetal and early postnatal dorsal root ganglia were established in culture as explants or as individual neurons and Schwann cells. A fibrin overlay assay was used to visualize the locations of PA secretion. Fibrinolytic zones formed around the somata of explants and were skewed in the direction of maximal fiber outgrowth. Individual growth cones at the tips of long fasiculated fiber bundles also released PA. Approximately 50% of individual neurons showed PA secretion; especially pronounced release occurred at some growth cones. Culture of nerve growth factor-independent adult neurons showed that PA expression was independent of effects of this growth hormone. A subpopulation of Schwann cells was also active in PA secretion, which could be detected at the soma, at the bipolar processes, or along the entire cell length. Possible functions of neural PA in development and regeneration are discussed.

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