Immunohistochemical methods are used to investigate in detail the development and regulation of three proteins (217c(Ran-1), A5E3 and GFAP) specifically associated with adult non-myelin-forming Schwann cells in the rat sciatic nerve, from embryo day 15 to maturity. 217c(Ran-1), which is probably the NGF-receptor, and A5E3 are expressed by the majority of cells in the nerve at embryo day 15 and by essentially all cells at embryo day 18. GFAP first appears at embryo day 18; this is an intrinsically programmed developmental event which occurs in cultured Schwann cells even in the absence of serum. Postnatally, the expression of 217c(Ran-1), A5E3 and GFAP is suppressed in cells that form myelin but retained in non-myelin-forming Schwann cells. Mature myelin-forming cells nevertheless maintain the potential to express all three proteins but will only do so if removed from contact with myelinated axons. In neuron-free cultures Schwann cells express all three proteins. This work, together with our previous observations on N-CAM, shows that removal of a diverse set of surface proteins and a change in intermediate filament expression is one of the major consequences of axon to Schwann cell signalling during myelination in the rat sciatic nerve. Unlike myelin-forming cells, adult non-myelin-forming Schwann cells remain very similar to embryonic and newborn cells with respect to expression of surface proteins, in contrast to the previously established developmental changes that occur in their surface lipids.