Traditional animal models of nerve injury use controlled crush or transection injuries to investigate nerve regeneration; however, a more common and challenging clinical problem involves closed traction nerve injuries. The authors have produced a precise traction injury model and sought to examine how the pathophysiology of stretch injuries compares with that of crush and transection injuries.
Ninety-five late-adolescent (8-week-old) male mice underwent 1 of 7 injury grades or a sham injury (n > 10 per group): elastic stretch, inelastic stretch, stretch rupture, crush, primary coaptation, secondary coaptation, and critical gap. Animals underwent serial neurological assessment with sciatic function index, tapered beam, and von Frey monofilament testing for 48 days after injury, followed by trichrome and immunofluorescent nerve histology and muscle weight evaluation.
The in-continuity injuries, crush and elastic stretch, demonstrated different recovery profiles, with more severe functional deficits after crush injury than after elastic stretch immediately following injury (p < 0.05). However, animals with either injury type returned to baseline performance in all neurological assessments, accompanied by minimal change in nerve histology. Inelastic stretch, a partial discontinuity injury, produced more severe neurological deficits, incomplete return of function, 47% ± 9.1% (mean ± SD) reduction of axon counts (p < 0.001), and partial neuroma formation within the nerve. Discontinuity injuries, including immediate and delayed nerve repair, stretch rupture, and critical gap, manifested severe, long-term neurological deficits and profound axonal loss, coupled with intraneural scar formation. Although repaired nerves demonstrated axon regeneration across the gap, rupture and critical gap injuries demonstrated negligible axon crossing, despite rupture injuries having healed into continuity.
Stretch-injured nerves present unique pathology and functional deficits compared with traditional nerve injury models. Because of the profound neuroma formation, stretch injuries represent an opportunity to study the pathophysiology associated with clinical injury mechanisms. Further validation for comparison with human injuries will require evaluation in a large-animal model.