The spontaneously immortalized S16 Schwann cell line expresses higher levels of myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG) and PO glycoprotein and their messenger RNAs when grown at high density than at low density [Sasagasako et al: J Neurochem 1996;66:1432-1439]. This up-regulation of myelin protein expression at high density is not associated with decreased cellular proliferation and may be caused by direct cell-to-cell contact. To investigate the hypothesis that increased mRNA levels for myelin proteins are caused by contact between Schwann cells, sparse S16 cell cultures were treated for 48 h with plasma-membrane-enriched fractions isolated from dense S16 cells. The treatment had no effect on the proliferation of the cells, but MAG and PO mRNAs were elevated 2- and 1.3-fold, respectively, in comparison to untreated cells. These effects on levels of myelin protein mRNAs were eliminated by pretreatment of the membrane fraction with heat or trypsin and were not caused by plasma membrane fractions from NIH 3T3 cells. These data support the hypothesis that homotypic contact between Schwann cells up-regulates expression of myelin proteins and suggest the possibility of autotypic contact-mediated regulation of myelinogenesis by adjacent spiraled membranes of individual Schwann cells.