The structure of the enteric nervous system (ENS) is different from that of extraenteric peripheral nerve. Collagen is excluded from the enteric plexuses and support for neuronal elements is provided by astrocyte-like enteric glial cells. Enteric glia differ from Schwann cells in that they do not form basal laminae and they ensheath axons, not individually, but in groups. Although enteric glia are rich in the S-100 and glial fibrillary acidic proteins, it has been difficult to find a single chemical marker that distinguishes enteric glia from non-myelinating Schwann cells. Nevertheless, two monoclonal antibodies have been obtained that recognize antigens that are expressed on Schwann cells (Ran-1 in rats and SMP in avians) but not enteric glia. Functional differences between enteric glia and non-myelinating Schwann cells, including responses to gliotoxins and in vitro proliferative rates, have also been observed. Developmentally, enteric glia, Schwann cells, are derived from the neural crest. In both mammals and birds the precursors of the ENS appear to migrate to the bowel from sacral as well as vagal levels of the crest. These crest-derived emigrés give rise to both enteric glia and neurons; however, analyses of the ontogeny of the enteric innervation in a mutant mouse (the ls/ls), in which the original clolonizing waves of crest-derived precursor cells are unable to invade the terminal colon, suggest that enteric glia can also arise from Schwann cells that enter the gut with the extrinsic innervation. When induced to leave back-transplanted segments of avian bowel, enteric crest-derived cells migrate into peripheral nerves and form Schwann cells. Enteric glia and Schwann cells thus appear to be different cell types, but ones that derive from lineages that diverge relatively late in ontogeny.