The effects of delayed nerve repair on neuronal survival and axonal regeneration after seventh cervical spinal nerve axotomy in adult rats
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It has been proposed clinically that delayed surgery after traumatic brachial plexus injury may adversely affect functional outcome. In the present experimental study the neuroprotective and growth-promoting effects of early and delayed nerve grafting following proximal seventh cervical spinal nerve (C7) axotomy were examined. The ventral branch of C7 spinal nerve was transected and axons projecting out of the proximal nerve stump were labelled with Fast Blue (FB). At the same time, the biceps brachii muscle was denervated by transecting the musculocutaneous nerve at its origin. Neuronal survival and muscle atrophy were then assessed at 1, 4, 8 and 16 weeks after permanent axotomy. In the experimental groups, a peripheral nerve graft was interposed between the transected C7 spinal nerve and the distal stump of the musculocutaneous nerve at 1 week [early nerve repair (ENR)] or 8 weeks [delayed nerve repair (DNR)] after axotomy. Sixteen weeks after nerve repair had been performed, a second tracer Fluoro-Ruby (FR) was applied distal to the graft to assess the efficacy of axonal regeneration. Counts of FB-labelled neurons revealed that axotomy did not induce any significant cell loss at 4 weeks, but 15% of motoneurons and 32% of sensory neurons died at 8 weeks after injury. At 16 weeks, the amount of cell loss in spinal cord and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) reached 29 and 50%, respectively. Both ENR and DNR prevented retrograde degeneration of spinal motoneurons and counteracted muscle atrophy, but failed to rescue sensory neurons. Due to substantial cell loss at 8 weeks, the number of FR-labelled neurons after DNR was significantly lower when compared to ENR. However, the proportion of regenerating neurons among surviving motoneurons and DRG neurons remained relatively constant indicating that neurons retained their regenerative capacity after prolonged axotomy. The results demonstrate that DNR could protect spinal motoneurons and reduce muscle atrophy, but had little effect on sensory DRG neurons. However, the efficacy of neuroprotection and axonal regeneration will be significantly affected by the amount of cell loss already presented at the time of nerve repair.
KeywordsMotoneuron Dorsal root ganglion Axonal regeneration Peripheral nerve graft Retrograde tracer
This study was supported by the Swedish Medical Research Council (grant number 02886), Umeå University, County of Västerbotten, the Gunvor and Josef Anér Foundation, the International Institute for Research in Paraplegia and Hjärnfonden. We thank Mrs. G. Folkesson, Mrs. M. Brohlin and Mrs. G. Hällström for technical assistance.
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