In the adult peripheral nerve, microvillous processes of myelinating Schwann cells project to the nodes of Ranvier; their composition and physiologic function have not been established. As the ezrin-radixin-moesin (ERM) proteins are expressed in the microvilli of many epithelial cells, we have examined the expression and distribution of these proteins in Schwann cells and neurons in vitro and in vivo. Cultured Schwann cells express high levels of all three proteins and the ezrin-binding protein 50, whereas neurons express much lower, although detectable, levels of radixin and moesin. Ezrin is specific for Schwann cells. All three ERM proteins are expressed predominantly at the membrane of cultured Schwann cells, notably in their microvilli. In vivo, the ERM proteins are concentrated strikingly in the nodal processes of myelinating Schwann cells. Because these processes are devoid of myelin proteins, they represent a unique compartment of the myelinating Schwann cell. During development, the ERM proteins become concentrated at the ends of Schwann cells before myelin basic protein expression, demonstrating that Schwann cells are polarized longitudinally at the onset of myelination. ERM-positive Schwann cell processes overlie and are associated closely with nascent nodes of Ranvier, identified by clusters of ankyrin G. Ankyrin accumulation at the node precedes that of Caspr at the paranodes and therefore does not depend on the presence of mature paranodal junctions. These results demonstrate that nodes of Ranvier in the peripheral nervous system form in contact with specialized processes of myelinating Schwann cells that are highly enriched in ERM proteins
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