This study aimed to generate a probe for perisynaptic Schwann cells (PSCs) to investigate the emerging role of these synapse-associated glial cells in the formation and maintenance of the neuromuscular junction (NMJ). We have obtained a novel monoclonal antibody, 2A12, which labels the external surface of PSC membranes at the frog NMJ. The antibody reveals PSC fine processes or "fingers" that are interposed between nerve terminal and muscle membrane, interdigitating with bands of acetylcholine receptors. This antibody also labels PSCs at the avian neuromuscular junction and recognizes a 200 kDa protein in Torpedo electric organs. In frog muscles, axotomy induces sprouting of PSC processes beyond clusters of acetylcholine receptors and acetylcholinesterase at denervated junctional branches. PSC branches often extend across several muscle fibers. At some junctions, PSC sprouts join the tips of neighboring branches. The average length of PSC sprouts is approximately 156 microm at 3-week denervated NMJs. PSC sprouting is accompanied by a significant increase in the number of Schwann cell bodies per NMJ. Following nerve regeneration, nerve terminals reinnervate the junction along the PSC processes. In vivo observations of normal frog muscles also show PSC processes longer than nerve terminals at some junctional branches. The results suggest that nerve injury induces profuse PSC sprouting that may play a role in guiding nerve terminal regeneration at frog NMJs. In addition, antibody 2A12 reveals the fine morphology of PSCs in relation to other synaptic elements and is a useful probe in elucidating the function of these synapse-associated glial cells in vivo.