Schwann cells play an important role in peripheral nerve regeneration. Here, we report the effect of alpha-sialyl cholesterol (alpha-SC), a derivative of the sialic acid-containing natural gangliosides, and the cytostatic agents, cisplatin, taxol and vincristine on the laminin production in Schwann cell cultures isolated from rat sciatic nerves. Laminin, one of several extracellular matrix components produced by Schwann cells, is known to potentiate axonal outgrowth. Laminin content was increased by alpha-SC, starting at 7.0 micrograms/ml with a maximal effect at 22.4 micrograms/ml (30%, P < 0.001). The three cytostatic drugs, dose-dependently reduced laminin content in Schwann cell cultures: (1) cisplatin at a threshold dose of 2 micrograms/ml (-26.4%, P < 0.001); (2) taxol, starting at a dose of 1 ng/ml (-8.0%, P < 0.05); and (3) vincristine, starting at 0.5 ng/ml (-5.9%, P < 0.05). Cultured Schwann cells were incubated with cytostatic drugs in combination with increasing amounts of alpha-SC and it was found that, depending on the cytostatic drug concentration used, alpha-SC could reduce or completely prevent the cytostatic drug-induced reduction of laminin in Schwann cell cultures. Co-treatment with alpha-SC also reduced part of the morphological changes caused by the cytostatic drugs. alpha-SC did not counteract the anti-proliferative effect of the cytostatic drugs on K-562 human erythroleukemia cells. In conclusion, alpha-SC increased laminin content in Schwann cell cultures and protected Schwann cell cultures against the decrease of laminin by cytostatic drugs without interfering with the anti-proliferative potential, suggesting that alpha-SC may have clinical use in protecting cancer patients against the neurotoxic effects of cytostatic drugs.