Neurofibromas are benign tumors arising from the peripheral nerve sheath and are a typical finding in neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). Schwann cells are the predominant cell type in neurofibromas and thus are supposed to play a major role in the pathogenesis of these tumors. It is not known, however, if NF1 mutations in Schwann cells result in an altered phenotype that subsequently leads to tumor formation. To characterize the biological properties of neurofibroma-derived Schwann cells we developed cell culture techniques that enabled us to isolate Schwann cells from neurofibromas and grow them in vitro for several weeks without significant fibroblast contamination. Neurofibroma-derived Schwann cells were characterized by altered morphology, heterogeneous growth behavior, and increased expression of the P0 antigen while several other features of normal human Schwann cells were retained. We conclude that neurofibroma-derived Schwann cells exhibit a distinct phenotype in vitro but that the observed abnormalities by themselves are insufficient to explain neurofibroma formation. Application of our improved culture conditions makes neurofibroma-derived Schwann cells readily available for further studies to define their role in tumorigenesis in neurofibromatosis type 1.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.