Adult skin-derived precursor Schwann cells exhibit superior myelination and regeneration supportive properties compared to chronically denervated nerve-derived Schwann cells
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Functional outcomes following delayed peripheral nerve repair are poor. Schwann cells (SCs) play key roles in supporting axonal regeneration and remyelination following nerve injury, thus understanding the impact of chronic denervation on SC function is critical toward developing therapies to enhance regeneration. To improve our understanding of SC function following acute versus chronic-denervation, we performed functional assays of SCs from adult rodent sciatic nerve with acute- (Day 5 post) or chronic-denervation (Day 56 post), versus embryonic nerves. We also compared Schwann cells derived from adult skin-derived precursors (aSKP-SCs) as an accessible, autologous alternative to supplement the distal (denervated) nerve. We found that acutely-injured SCs and aSKP-SCs exhibited superior proliferative capacity, promotion of neurite outgrowth and myelination of axons, both in vitro and following transplant into a sciatic nerve crush injury model, while chronically-denervated SCs were severely impaired. Acute injury caused re-activation of transcription factors associated with an immature and pro-myelinating SC state (Oct-6, cJun, Sox2, AP2α, cadherin-19), but was diminished with prolonged denervation in vivo and could not be rescued following expansion in vitro suggesting that this is a permanent deficiency. Interestingly, aSKP-SCs closely resembled acutely injured and embryonic SCs, exhibiting elevated expression of these same transcription factors. In summary, prolonged denervation resulted in SC deficiency in several functional parameters that may contribute to impaired regeneration. In contrast, aSKP-SCs closely resemble the regenerative attributes ascribed to acutely-denervated or embryonic SCs emphasizing their potential as an accessible and autologous source of glia cells to enhance nerve regeneration, particularly following delays to surgical repair.