• 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase;
  • myelin sheaths;
  • nerve regeneration;
  • neurosteroids;
  • rats


In peripheral nerves, progesterone synthesized by Schwann cells has been implicated in myelination. In spite of such an important function, little is known of the regulation of progesterone biosynthesis in the nervous system. We show here that in rat Schwann cells, expression of the 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and formation of progesterone are dependent on neuronal signal. Levels of 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase mRNA and synthesis of [3H]progesterone from [3H]pregnenolone were low in purified Schwann cells prepared from neonatal rat sciatic nerves. However, when Schwann cells were cultured in contact with sensory neurons, both expression and activity of the 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase were induced. Regulation of 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase expression by neurons was also demonstrated in vivo in the rat sciatic nerve. 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase mRNA was present in the intact nerve, but could no longer be detected 3 or 6 days after cryolesion, when axons had degenerated. After 15 days, when Schwann cells made new contact with the regenerating axons, the enzyme was re-expressed. After nerve transection, which does not allow axonal regeneration, 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase mRNA remained undetectable. The regulation of 3β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase mRNA after lesion was similar to the regulation of myelin protein zero (P0) and peripheral myelin protein 22 (PMP22) mRNAs, supporting an important role of locally formed progesterone in myelination.