Schwann cells respond to nerve injury by dedifferentiating into immature states and producing neurotrophic factors, two actions that facilitate successful regeneration of axons. Previous reports have implicated the Raf-ERK cascade and the expression of c-jun in these Schwann cell responses. Here we used cultured primary Schwann cells to demonstrate that active Rac1 GTPase (Rac) functions as a negative regulator of Schwann cell differentiation by upregulating c-jun and downregulating Krox20 through the MKK7-JNK pathway, but not through the Raf-ERK pathway. The activation of MKK7 and induction of c-jun in sciatic nerves after axotomy was blocked by Rac inhibition. Microarray experiments revealed that the expression of regeneration-associated genes, such as glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor and p75 neurotrophin receptor, after nerve injury was dependent on Rac but not on ERK. Finally, the inhibition of ErbB2 signaling prevented MKK7 activation, c-jun induction, and Rac-dependent gene expression in sciatic nerve explant cultures. Taken together, our results indicate that the neuregulin-Rac-MKK7-JNK/c-jun pathway regulates Schwann cell dedifferentiation following nerve injury.
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