Background Peripheral nerve injuries can severely affect the way that animals perceive signals from the surrounding environment. While damage to peripheral axons generally has a better outcome than injuries to central nervous system axons, it is currently unknown how neurons re-establish their target innervations to recover function after injury, and how accessory cells contribute to this task. Here we use a simple technique to create reproducible and localized injury in the posterior lateral line (pLL) nerve of zebrafish and follow the fate of both neurons and Schwann cells.
Results Using pLL single axon labeling by transient transgene expression, as well as transplantation of glial precursor cells in zebrafish larvae, we individualize different components in this system and characterize their cellular behaviors during the regenerative process. Neurectomy is followed by loss of Schwann cell differentiation markers that is reverted after nerve regrowth. We show that reinnervation of lateral line hair cells in neuromasts during pLL nerve regeneration is a highly dynamic process with promiscuous yet non-random target recognition. Furthermore, Schwann cells are required for directional extension and fasciculation of the regenerating nerve. We provide evidence that these cells and regrowing axons are mutually dependant during early stages of nerve regeneration in the pLL. The role of ErbB signaling in this context is also explored.
Conclusion The accessibility of the pLL nerve and the availability of transgenic lines that label this structure and their synaptic targets provides an outstanding in vivo model to study the different events associated with axonal extension, target reinnervation, and the complex cellular interactions between glial cells and injured axons during nerve regeneration.