Sensory neurons and associated glial cells are known to express the cell-cell adhesion molecule E-cadherin. The cellular and subcellular localization of this molecule in the dorsal root ganglion, dorsal root, and spinal cord of postnatal mice was studied by the pre-embedding immunoelectron microscopic labelling technique. In the dorsal root and the superficial layer of the dorsal horn, a subset of fasciculating unmyelinated axons expressed E-cadherin at their axon-axon contacts at all ages studied, and these axons were clustered together and segregated from E-cadherin-negative axons. In contrast, pre-myelinating large-diameter axons in P2 mice as well as myelinated axons in mice from P14 to adulthood were E-cadherin-negative. Glial cells also expressed E-cadherin: In the dorsal root ganglia, all of the satellite cells expressed E-cadherin at contact sites with neurons, other satellite cells, and basal lamina, at all ages studied. In dorsal roots from P14 to adulthood, myelin-forming Schwann cells expressed E-cadherin at the outer mesaxons and the contact sites with basal lamina. Non-myelin-forming Schwann cells occasionally stained for this molecule at contact sites with the plasma membrane of E-cadherin-positive axons and at other sites. These results strongly suggest that E-cadherin plays an important role in the selective fasciculation of a particular subset of unmyelinated sensory fibres, and also in glial cell contacts.
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