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 | Lecture Movie | 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

  • Dual origin of enteric neurons in vagal Schwann cell precursors and the sympathetic neural crest[1] "Most of the enteric nervous system derives from the "vagal" neural crest, lying at the level of somites 1-7, which invades the digestive tract rostro-caudally from the foregut to the hindgut. Little is known about the initial phase of this colonization, which brings enteric precursors into the foregut. Here we show that the "vagal crest" subsumes two populations of enteric precursors with contrasted origins, initial modes of migration, and destinations. Crest cells adjacent to somites 1 and 2 produce Schwann cell precursors that colonize the vagus nerve, which in turn guides them into the esophagus and stomach. Crest cells adjacent to somites 3-7 belong to the crest streams contributing to sympathetic chains: they migrate ventrally, seed the sympathetic chains, and colonize the entire digestive tract thence. Accordingly, enteric ganglia, like sympathetic ones, are atrophic when deprived of signaling through the tyrosine kinase receptor ErbB3, while half of the esophageal ganglia require, like parasympathetic ones, the nerve-associated form of the ErbB3 ligand, Neuregulin-1. These dependencies might bear relevance to Hirschsprung disease, with which alleles of Neuregulin-1 are associated."
  • How Schwann Cells Sort Axons: New Concepts[2] "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[3]"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[4] "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

D Ian Flitcroft, James Loughman, Christine F Wildsoet, Cathy Williams, Jeremy A Guggenheim, for the CREAM Consortium Novel Myopia Genes and Pathways Identified From Syndromic Forms of Myopia. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci.: 2018, 59(1);338-348 PubMed 29346494

Elisabeth Castellanos, Adrià Plana, Cristina Carrato, Meritxell Carrió, Inma Rosas, Emilio Amilibia, Francesc Roca-Ribas, Cristina Hostalot, Alicia Castillo, Andrea Ros, Ariadna Quer, Juan Luis Becerra, Hector Salvador, Conxi Lázaro, Ignacio Blanco, Eduard Serra, Isabel Bielsa, for CSUR Phakomatoses Multidisciplinary Clinics HUGTiP-ICO-IGTP Early Genetic Diagnosis of Neurofibromatosis Type 2 From Skin Plaque Plexiform Schwannomas in Childhood. JAMA Dermatol: 2018; PubMed 29322178

Daniel L Coutu, Konstantinos D Kokkaliaris, Leo Kunz, Timm Schroeder Multicolor quantitative confocal imaging cytometry. Nat. Methods: 2018, 15(1);39-46 PubMed 29320487

Yuanjing Hou, Xinyu Wang, Jing Yang, Rong Zhu, Zongrui Zhang, Yi Li Development and biocompatibility evaluation of biodegradable bacterial cellulose as a novel peripheral nerve scaffold. J Biomed Mater Res A: 2018; PubMed 29316233

Minami A Tokuyama, Cindy Xu, Rebecca E Fisher, Jeanne Wilson-Rawls, Kenro Kusumi, Jason M Newbern Developmental and adult-specific processes contribute to de novo neuromuscular regeneration in the lizard tail. Dev. Biol.: 2018, 433(2);287-296 PubMed 29291978

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. Isabel Espinosa-Medina, Ben Jevans, Franck Boismoreau, Zoubida Chettouh, Hideki Enomoto, Thomas Müller, Carmen Birchmeier, Alan J Burns, Jean-François Brunet Dual origin of enteric neurons in vagal Schwann cell precursors and the sympathetic neural crest. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A.: 2017; PubMed 29078343
  2. M Laura Feltri, Yannick Poitelon, Stefano Carlo Previtali How Schwann Cells Sort Axons: New Concepts. Neuroscientist: 2016, 22(3);252-65 PubMed 25686621
  3. 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
  4. 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. 2018 Embryology Neural Crest - Schwann Cell Development. Retrieved January 19, 2018, from

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