Schwann cells form myelin, sustain axons and provide the microenvironment for nerve fibers, thereby playing a key role in the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Schwann cells also provide support for the damaged PNS by producing factors that strongly promote axonal regrowth and contribute to remyelination, which is crucial for the recovery of neural function. These advantages are not confined to the PNS and also apply to the central nervous system. Many diseases, including peripheral nerve injury, neuropathy, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury, are targets for Schwann cell therapy. The collection of Schwann cells, however, causes new damage to other peripheral nerve segments. Furthermore, the doubling time of Schwann cells is not very fast, and thus adequate amounts of Schwann cells for clinical use cannot be collected within a reasonable amount of time. Mesenchymal stem cells, which are highly proliferative, are easily accessible from various types of mesenchymal tissues, such as the bone marrow, umbilical cord and fat tissue. Because these cells have the ability to cross oligolineage boundaries between mesodermal to ectodermal lineages, they are capable of differentiating into Schwann cells with step-by-step cytokine stimulation. In this review, we summarize the properties of mesenchymal stem cell-derived Schwann cells, which are comparable to authentic Schwann cells, and discuss future perspectives.
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