Schwann cell lamellipodia regulate cell-cell interactions and phagocytosis

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Lamellipodia in Schwann cells (SCs) are crucial for myelination, but their other biological functions remain largely uncharacterised. Two types of lamellipodia exist in SCs: axial lamellipodia at the outermost edge of the cell processes, and radial lamellipodia appearing peripherally along the entire cell. We have previously shown that radial lamellipodia on olfactory glia (olfactory ensheathing cells; OECs) promote cell-cell adhesion, contact-mediated migration and phagocytosis. Here we have investigated whether lamellipodia in SCs have similar roles. Using live-cell imaging, we show that the radial lamellipodia in SCs are highly motile, appear at multiple cellular sites and rapidly move in a wave-like manner. We found that axial and radial lamellipodia had strikingly different roles and are regulated by different intracellular pathways. Axial lamellipodia initiated interactions with other SCs and with neurons by contacting radial lamellipodia on SCs, and budding neurites/axons. Most SC-SC interactions resulted in repulsion, and, lamellipodial activity (unlike in OECs) did not promote contact-mediated migration. We show that lamellipodia are crucial for SC-mediated phagocytosis of both axonal debris and bacteria, and demonstrated that inhibition of lamellipodial activity by blocking the Rho/Rac pathways also inhibits phagocytosis. We also show that heregulin, which induces SC differentiation and maturation, alters lamellipodial behaviour but does not affect phagocytic activity. Overall, the results show that SC lamellipodia are important for cell interactions and phagocytosis.Graphical abstractHighlightsSchwann cells have motile lamellipodia that regulate cell-cell contact.Lamellipodia are important for phagocytic activity.Schwann cell lamellipodia are different to those in olfactory ensheathing cells in that radial lamellipodia do not drive contact-mediated migration.

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