, Volume 76, Issue 1, pp 35-45

Long-term endoneurial changes after nerve transection

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Summary

Long-term endoneurial changes in the distal stump of transected rat sciatic nerve were examined from 8 to 50 weeks after nerve transection. The morphological alterations were followed both in nerves which were allowed to regenerate and in nerves in which regeneration was prevented by suturing. The nerves prevented from regenerating showed markedly atrophied Schwann cell columns after 20 weeks and a disappearance of some Schwann cell columns after 30 weeks. The surrounding endoneurial fibroblast-like cells gradually lost their delicate cytoplasmic extensions and formed rough fascicles around numerous shrunken Schwann cell columns or around areas from which Schwann cells had apparently disappeared. Inside the fascicles, the Schwann cell loss was replaced by collagen fibrils or occasionally, by a dense accumulation of microfibrils. The loss of endoneurial cytoplasmic processes continued up to 50 weeks, leaving behind patches of thin fibrils around numerous shrunken Schwann cell columns or around collagenous areas where Schwann cells were lost. The endoneurial matrix showed presence of thin 25- to 30-nm collagen fibrils close to shrunken Schwann cell columns up to 50 weeks but in areas with advanced degeneration a shift towards regular 50- to 60-nm collagen fibrils occurred. The degenerated areas resembled those described in Renaut bodies and neurofibromas. Despite suturing of transected nerves to prevent sprouting, occasional regenerating sprouts were noted in the Schwann cell columns. These axons were surrounded in a sheath-like fashion by pre-existing endoneurial cell fascicles covered by a basal lamina. In the reinnervating nerves the endoneurial space gradually lost its compartmentized structures consisting of collagen fibrils and endoneurial fibroblast-like cells. After 20 weeks the endoneurial cells were inconspicuous and the extracelluar matrix consisted mainly of 50- to 60-nm collagen fibrils. During axonal growth and maturation, Schwann cells containing unmyelinated axons surrounded large, myelinated axons in a collar-like fashion. Close to these collars of Schwann cells, thin 25- to 30-nm collagen fibrils were noted in focal areas, even after 50 weeks. Occasionally, numerous clusters of regenerating axonal sprouts were noted in the perineurium. These were surrounded by multiple layers of cells possessing basal lamina. The present results show that after nerve transection the distal stump of the severed nerve shows dynamic changes in the endoneurial space, especially in nerves where reinnervation is prevented. The endoneurial fascicles around occasional axonal sprouts in sutured nerves, representing possibly a delayed type of regeneration, show that axons have a strong ability to grow but on the other hand endoneurial structures are unable to respond normally to axonal growth after advanced degeneration.