Nerve injury triggers the conversion of myelin and non-myelin (Remak) Schwann cells to a cell phenotype specialized to promote repair. Distal to damage, these repair Schwann cells provide the necessary signals and spatial cues for the survival of injured neurons, axonal regeneration and target reinnervation. The conversion to repair Schwann cells involves de-differentiation together with alternative differentiation, or activation, a combination that is typical of cell type conversions often referred to as (direct or lineage) reprogramming. Thus, injury-induced Schwann cell reprogramming involves down-regulation of myelin genes combined with activation of a set of repair-supportive features, including up-regulation of trophic factors, elevation of cytokines as part of the innate immune response, myelin clearance by activation of myelin autophagy in Schwann cells and macrophage recruitment, and the formation of regeneration tracks, Bungner's bands, for directing axons to their targets. This repair programme is controlled transcriptionally by mechanisms involving the transcription factor c-Jun, which is rapidly up-regulated in Schwann cells after injury. In the absence of c-Jun, damage results in the formation of a dysfunctional repair cell, neuronal death and failure of functional recovery. c-Jun, although not required for Schwann cell development, is therefore central to the reprogramming of myelin and non-myelin (Remak) Schwann cells to repair cells after injury. In future, the signalling that specifies this cell requires further analysis so that pharmacological tools that boost and maintain the repair Schwann cell phenotype can be developed.
© 2016 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The Physiological Society.