Multipotent somatic stem cells have been identified in various adult tissues. However, the stem/progenitor cells of the peripheral nerves have been isolated only from fetal tissues. Here, we isolated Schwann-cell precursors/immature Schwann cells from the injured peripheral nerves of adult mice using a floating culture technique that we call "Schwann-spheres." The Schwann-spheres were derived from de-differentiated mature Schwann cells harvested 24 hours to 6 weeks after peripheral nerve injury. They had extensive self-renewal and differentiation capabilities. They strongly expressed the immature-Schwann-cell marker p75, and differentiated only into the Schwann-cell lineage. The spheres showed enhanced myelin formation and neurite growth compared to mature Schwann cells in vitro. Mature Schwann cells have been considered a promising candidate for cell-transplantation therapies to repair the damaged nervous system, whereas these "Schwann-spheres" would provide a more potential autologous cell source for such transplantation.
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