We have established functions of the stimulus-dependent MAPKs, ERK1/2 and ERK5, in DRG, motor neuron, and Schwann cell development. Surprisingly, many aspects of early DRG and motor neuron development were found to be ERK1/2 independent, and Erk5 deletion had no obvious effect on embryonic PNS. In contrast, Erk1/2 deletion in developing neural crest resulted in peripheral nerves that were devoid of Schwann cell progenitors, and deletion of Erk1/2 in Schwann cell precursors caused disrupted differentiation and marked hypomyelination of axons. The Schwann cell phenotypes are similar to those reported in neuregulin-1 and ErbB mutant mice, and neuregulin effects could not be elicited in glial precursors lacking Erk1/2. ERK/MAPK regulation of myelination was specific to Schwann cells, as deletion in oligodendrocyte precursors did not impair myelin formation, but reduced precursor proliferation. Our data suggest a tight linkage between developmental functions of ERK/MAPK signaling and biological actions of specific RTK-activating factors.
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