✓ In adult guinea pigs, the oculomotor nerve was sectioned proximally (at the tentorial edge) or more distally (at the orbital fissure) and immediately repaired by reapproximation. During a 24-week postoperative period, extrinsic eye motility was assessed by analyzing the vestibulo-ocular reflexes. The regenerated oculomotor nerve was studied morphometrically on semi-thin histological sections at 16 and 24 weeks postinjury. The selectivity of muscle reinnervation was investigated by injection of both single (horseradish peroxidase) and double (fluorescent dyes) retrograde axonal tracers into the eye muscles. Following proximal repair of the oculomotor nerve, the degree of recovery of extraocular motility varied among different animals and remained stable over long-term observations. In animals with poor recovery, aberrant eye movements were always found, and the somatotopic map of the reinnervated eye muscles was greatly altered. Distortions of the central representation were also seen in those animals in which a good level of functional recovery was seen. However, in animals with good recovery, a topographic bias was re-established by about 65% of the original neuronal population, as opposed to 26% in the animals with poor recovery. Neurons located contralateral to the axotomized nucleus sprouted intra-axially and projected their axons to denervated eye muscles. The number and diameter of the regenerated axons, the number and soma diameter of the axotomized neurons, and the ratio of distal axonal branches to proximal supporting neurons were all related to the degree of functional recovery.
Following repair of the oculomotor nerve at the orbital fissure, extraocular motility had recovered in all of the animals at 16 weeks without aberrant phenomena. Functional regeneration of the distally transected oculomotor nerve is thought to be the result of selective muscle reinnervation.