Schwann cell culture

Dave Davey

When a peripheral nerve is seriously injured, such that some of the nerve cells distal to the point of injury die, the Schwann cells undergo changes that promote regeneration of the nerve cells. The cells become comparatively less specialised in structure, and the characteristic myelin that they form disappears. The cells also begin to multiply.

We thought this process, once established, would make it easier to extract the Schwann cells from the nerve. Since this is normally quite difficult in nerves obtained from adult animals or humans, an improvement in cell yield would assist in study of adult cells.

One way to assess cell yield and quality is to measure the number of cells that attach to the bottom of a cell culture chamber after the cells are placed into the culture medium in the chamber. Healthy cells attach quite strongly, whereas dying cells do not. The effect of a "conditioning" injury upon cell attachment is quite spectacular, as the following graph shows.


The effect of the conditioning injury can be mimmicked by placing a piece of peripheral nerve into tissue culture. Because the nerve cells are cut in obtaining the sample, the conditioning of the Schwann cells proceeds, and the cells can be extacted after a week or so. This method allows us to obtain cells from animal and human nerves very reliably.

Last updated 10 March 1998