Target size regulates calibre and myelination of sympathetic axons

Nature. 1989 Nov 23;342(6248):430-3. doi: 10.1038/342430a0.


Axons in vertebrate peripheral nerves are ensheathed by Schwann cells. For some axons, this sheath consists of a single layer of glial cell cytoplasm and plasma membranes; for other axons, Schwann cells form multilayered myelin. Whether or not a Schwann cell makes myelin is determined by a signal from the axon, but the nature of this signal is not known. Here I show that sympathetic postganglionic axons, which are normally not myelinated, become myelinated when their calibre is increased as a result of increasing the size of the peripheral target they innervate. This result implies that axon calibre, which is known to be correlated with myelination, is in fact the crucial determinant of whether an axon becomes myelinated. Furthermore, the finding that increasing or decreasing target size causes corresponding increases or decreases in axon size indicates that axon calibre is itself regulated by retrograde signals from peripheral target tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Denervation*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Myelin Sheath / ultrastructure*
  • Rats
  • Reference Values
  • Submandibular Gland / innervation
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / ultrastructure*