Neural Crest - Schwann Cell Development

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Schwann cells wrap around nerve axon processes outside of the central nervous system. These cells in development originate from neural crest cells migrating out along the developing nerve fibers and these cells differentiate to form myelin sheaths that surround the mature nerve.

The cells are named after their original discoverer a German physiologist Theodor Schwann (1810 - 1882).

Myelination animation.gif


Neural Crest Links: Introduction | Lecture - Early Neural | Lecture - Neural Crest Development | Schwann | Adrenal Gland | Melanocyte | Peripheral Nervous System | Enteric Nervous System | Cornea | Cranial Nerves | Cardiac | Nicole Le Douarin | Neural Crest Movies | Abnormalities | Category:Neural Crest

Some Recent Findings

  • How Schwann Cells Sort Axons: New Concepts[1] "Peripheral nerves contain large myelinated and small unmyelinated (Remak) fibers that perform different functions. The choice to myelinate or not is dictated to Schwann cells by the axon itself, based on the amount of neuregulin I-type III exposed on its membrane. Peripheral axons are more important in determining the final myelination fate than central axons, and the implications for this difference in Schwann cells and oligodendrocytes are discussed. Interestingly, this choice is reversible during pathology, accounting for the remarkable plasticity of Schwann cells, and contributing to the regenerative potential of the peripheral nervous system. Radial sorting is the process by which Schwann cells choose larger axons to myelinate during development."
  • Schwann cell precursors from nerve innervation are a cellular origin of melanocytes in skin[2]"Current opinion holds that pigment cells, melanocytes, are derived from neural crest cells produced at the dorsal neural tube and that migrate under the epidermis to populate all parts of the skin. Here, we identify growing nerves projecting throughout the body as a stem/progenitor niche containing Schwann cell precursors (SCPs) from which large numbers of skin melanocytes originate. SCPs arise as a result of lack of neuronal specification by Hmx1 homeobox gene function in the neural crest ventral migratory pathway. Schwann cell and melanocyte development share signaling molecules with both the glial and melanocyte cell fates intimately linked to nerve contact and regulated in an opposing manner by Neuregulin and soluble signals including insulin-like growth factor and platelet-derived growth factor. These results reveal SCPs as a cellular origin of melanocytes, and have broad implications on the molecular mechanisms regulating skin pigmentation during development, in health and pigmentation disorders."
  • Neural crest origin of olfactory ensheathing glia[3] "Olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) are a unique class of glial cells with exceptional translational potential because of their ability to support axon regeneration in the central nervous system. Although OECs are similar in many ways to immature and nonmyelinating Schwann cells, and can myelinate large-diameter axons indistinguishably from myelination by Schwann cells, current dogma holds that OECs arise from the olfactory epithelium. Here, using fate-mapping techniques in chicken embryos and genetic lineage tracing in mice, we show that OECs in fact originate from the neural crest and hence share a common developmental heritage with Schwann cells."
More recent papers
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Search term: Schwann Cell Development

Suradip Das, Manav Sharma, Dhiren Saharia, Kushal Sarma, Elizabeth Muir, Utpal Bora Electrospun silk-polyaniline conduits for functional nerve regeneration in rat sciatic nerve injury model. Biomed Mater: 2017; PubMed 28632137

Anup D Sharma, Jayme Wiederin, Metin Uz, Pawel Ciborowski, Surya K Mallapragada, Howard E Gendelman, Donald S Sakaguchi Proteomic analysis of mesenchymal to Schwann cell transdifferentiation. J Proteomics: 2017; PubMed 28629798

Koji Sakai, Kenta Shimba, Kiyoshi Kotani, Yasuhiko Jimbo A co-culture microtunnel technique demonstrating a significant contribution of unmyelinated Schwann cells to the acceleration of axonal conduction in Schwann cell-regulated peripheral nerve development. Integr Biol (Camb): 2017; PubMed 28581556

Guicai Li, Qinzhi Xiao, Luzhong Zhang, Yahong Zhao, Yumin Yang Nerve growth factor loaded heparin/chitosan scaffolds for accelerating peripheral nerve regeneration. Carbohydr Polym: 2017, 171;39-49 PubMed 28578969

Keit Men Wong, Elisabetta Babetto, Bogdan Beirowski Axon degeneration: make the Schwann cell great again. Neural Regen Res: 2017, 12(4);518-524 PubMed 28553320

Schwann cell myelination

Schwann cell myelination and dedifferentiation.jpg Schmidt-Lanterman cleft cartoon.jpg
Schwann cell myelination Schmidt-Lanterman cleft

Schwann and axon interactions.jpg

Mouse- spinal cord axons

Mouse- spinal cord axons.jpg

Mouse-sciatic nerve Schwann cell.jpg


  1. M Laura Feltri, Yannick Poitelon, Stefano Carlo Previtali How Schwann Cells Sort Axons: New Concepts. Neuroscientist: 2016, 22(3);252-65 PubMed 25686621
  2. Igor Adameyko, Francois Lallemend, Jorge B Aquino, Jorge A Pereira, Piotr Topilko, Thomas Müller, Nicolas Fritz, Anna Beljajeva, Makoto Mochii, Isabel Liste, Dmitry Usoskin, Ueli Suter, Carmen Birchmeier, Patrik Ernfors Schwann cell precursors from nerve innervation are a cellular origin of melanocytes in skin. Cell: 2009, 139(2);366-79 PubMed 19837037
  3. Perrine Barraud, Anastasia A Seferiadis, Luke D Tyson, Maarten F Zwart, Heather L Szabo-Rogers, Christiana Ruhrberg, Karen J Liu, Clare V H Baker Neural crest origin of olfactory ensheathing glia. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.: 2010, 107(49);21040-5 PubMed 21078992


Igor Adameyko, Francois Lallemend Glial versus melanocyte cell fate choice: Schwann cell precursors as a cellular origin of melanocytes. Cell. Mol. Life Sci.: 2010, 67(18);3037-55 PubMed 20454996

Gabrièle Piaton, Robert M Gould, Catherine Lubetzki Axon-oligodendrocyte interactions during developmental myelination, demyelination and repair. J. Neurochem.: 2010, 114(5);1243-60 PubMed 20524961

S Y Christin Chong, Jonah R Chan Tapping into the glial reservoir: cells committed to remaining uncommitted. J. Cell Biol.: 2010, 188(3);305-12 PubMed 20142420

Suleyman Kaplan, Ersan Odaci, Bunyami Unal, Bunyamin Sahin, Michele Fornaro Chapter 2: Development of the peripheral nerve. Int. Rev. Neurobiol.: 2009, 87;9-26 PubMed 19682631


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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. 2017 Embryology Neural Crest - Schwann Cell Development. Retrieved June 24, 2017, from

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