Schwann cells guide axonal regrowth during peripheral nerve repair. In a case of a nerve lesion with substance loss, a graft conduit is necessary to enable axons to reach the distal nerve stump. If a non-nervous autograft is used, the question arises as to the presence and origin of Schwann cells along the grafted tube. We addressed this issue using a tubulization technique based on the use of an autologous vein filled with fresh skeletal muscle for the repair of sciatic nerve defects in the rat. We showed that both ends of the graft were early and progressively colonized by a number of glial fibrillar acid protein-immunopositive and S-100 immunonegative cells, an immunocytochemical pattern typical of immature Schwann cells. These cells, which were located in the interstice between grafted skeletal muscle fibers, are mainly organized into long chains oriented along the main axis of the graft and progressively colonize all the graft. Schwann cells coming from the distal nerve end are suitable for being responsible for guiding regeneration of nerve fibers along the graft toward the correct periphery (tissue specificity).
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