In the peripheral nervous system, regeneration of motor and sensory axons into chronically denervated distal nerve segments is impaired compared to regeneration into acutely denervated nerves. In order to find possible causes for this phenomenon we examined the changes in the expression pattern of the glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family of growth factors and their receptors in chronically denervated rat sciatic nerves as a function of time with or without regeneration. Among the GDNF family of growth factors, only GDNF mRNA expression was rapidly upregulated in Schwann cells as early as 48 h after denervation. This upregulation peaked at 1 week and then declined to minimal levels by 6 months of denervation. The changes in the protein expression paralleled the changes in the expression of the GDNF mRNA. The mRNAs for receptors GFRalpha-1 and GFRalpha-2 were upregulated only after maximal GDNF upregulation and remained elevated as late as 6 months. There were no significant changes in the expression of GFRalpha-3 or the tyrosine kinase coreceptor, RET. When we examined the expression of GDNF in a delayed regeneration paradigm, there was no upregulation in the distal chronically denervated tibial nerve even when the freshly axotomized peroneal branch of the sciatic nerve was sutured to the distal tibial nerve. This study suggests that one of the reasons for impaired regeneration into chronically denervated peripheral nerves may be the inability of Schwann cells to maintain important trophic support for both motor and sensory neurons.
(c) 2002 Elsevier Science.