Peripheral nerves from aged animals exhibit features of degeneration, including marked fiber loss, morphological irregularities in myelinated axons and notable reduction in the expression of myelin proteins. To investigate how protein homeostatic mechanisms change with age within the peripheral nervous system, we isolated Schwann cells from the sciatic nerves of young and old rats. The responsiveness of cells from aged nerves to stress stimuli is weakened, which in part may account for the observed age-associated alterations in glial and axonal proteins in vivo. Although calorie restriction is known to slow the aging process in the central nervous system, its influence on peripheral nerves has not been investigated in detail. To determine if dietary restriction is beneficial for peripheral nerve health and glial function, we studied sciatic nerves from rats of four distinct ages (8, 18, 29 and 38 months) kept on an ad libitum (AL) or a 40% calorie restricted diet. Age-associated reduction in the expression of the major myelin proteins and widening of the nodes of Ranvier are attenuated by the dietary intervention, which is paralleled with the maintenance of a differentiated Schwann cell phenotype. The improvements in nerve architecture with diet restriction, in part, are underlined by sustained expression of protein chaperones and markers of the autophagy-lysosomal pathway. Together, the in vitro and in vivo results suggest that there might be an age-limit by which dietary intervention needs to be initiated to elicit a beneficial response on peripheral nerve health. © 2009 The Authors Journal compilation © 2009 Blackwell Publishing Ltd/The Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland.