, Volume 89, Issue 3, pp 209-218

Axonal regeneration into chronically denervated distal stump

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Abstract

In this study, we have analyzed the ability of axons to regenerate into chronically denervated peripheral nerve. As an experimental rat model, the proximal end of a newly transected rat tibial nerve was sutured into chronically denervated (3 months up to 16 months) common peroneal nerve. Samples for morphological studies were collected 3 and 6 weeks after anastomosis of the tibial and common peroneal nerves. Our results showing a distinct organization of the endoneurial matrix in the chronically denervated distal stumps conformed with those from previous studies. Long cytoplasmic processes of endoneurial fibroblasts in close contact with collagen fibrils (with a diameter of 50–60 nm) surrounded areas of thin collagen fibrils (with a diameter of 25–30 nm). Remnants of Schwann cell columns (i.e., bands of Büngner) were situated in areas of thin collagen fibrils. After 12 months of denervation the majority of the Schwann cells columns were replaced by thin collagen fibrils. Successful axonal regeneration was noted in distal stumps that had been denervated for 14 and even 16 months. However, axonal regeneration diminshed with prolonged denervation. The regenerating axons grew through the areas of thin collagen fibrils. The maturation and thickening of the regenerated axonal sprouts resulted in a decrease in areas of thin collagen fibrils. These results suggest that a chronically denervated nerve stump has the capacity to meet regenerating axons even after 16 months of deneravation, although the progressive atrophy of Schwann cell columns impairs the liklihood of good axonal regeneration. The areas of thin collagen fibrils may act as a ‘plastic’ bed for successful axonal regeneration, and a study of these fibrils may provide further insight into the role of the extracellular matrix during peripheral nerve regeneration.