Literature context: AC-GU01-M01AS-A; 1:10,000, RRID:AB_1962608), rabbit anti-GFAP (Dako Cytoma
Following nerve injury, denervated Schwann cells (SCs) convert to repair SCs, which enable regeneration of peripheral axons. However, the repair capacity of SCs and the regenerative capacity of peripheral axons are limited. In the present studies we examined a potential therapeutic strategy to enhance the repair capacity of SCs, and tested its efficacy in enhancing regeneration of dorsal root (DR) axons, whose regenerative capacity is particularly weak. We used male and female mice of a doxycycline-inducible transgenic line to induce expression of constitutively active ErbB2 (caErbB2) selectively in SCs after DR crush or transection. Two weeks after injury, injured DRs of induced animals contained far more SCs and SC processes. These SCs had not redifferentiated and continued to proliferate. Injured DRs of induced animals also contained far more axons that regrew along SC processes past the transection or crush site. Remarkably, SCs and axons in uninjured DRs remained quiescent, indicating that caErbB2 enhanced regeneration of injured DRs, without aberrantly activating SCs and axons in intact nerves. We also found that intraspinally expressed glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), but not the removal of chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, greatly enhanced the intraspinal migration of caErbB2-expressing SCs, enabling robust penetration of DR axons into the spinal cord. These findings indicate that SC-selective, post-injury activation of ErbB2 provides a novel strategy to powerfully enhance the repair capacity of SCs and axon regeneration, without substantial off-target damage. They also highlight that promoting directed migration of caErbB2-expressing SCs by GDNF might be useful to enable axon regrowth in a non-permissive environment.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Repair of injured peripheral nerves remains a critical clinical problem. We currently lack a therapy that potently enhances axon regeneration in patients with traumatic nerve injury. It is extremely challenging to substantially increase the regenerative capacity of damaged nerves without deleterious off-target effects. It was therefore of great interest to discover that caErbB2 markedly enhances regeneration of damaged dorsal roots, while evoking little change in intact roots. To our knowledge, these findings are the first demonstration that repair capacity of denervated SCs can be efficaciously enhanced without altering innervated SCs. Our study also demonstrates that oncogenic ErbB2 signaling can be activated in SCs but not impede transdifferentiation of denervated SCs to regeneration-promoting repair SCs.