Over the last decade, a number of authors have investigated the utility of different biological and synthetic matrices as alternatives to conventional nerve grafts. However, the autologous nerve graft remains the gold standard, even though it often involves using a pure sensory nerve to reconstruct a mixed or even a pure motor nerve. Furthermore, limited donor sites often necessitate a significant mismatch of needed nerve tissue, especially for large proximal nerve defects such as brachial plexus lesions. Here, the authors present a new technique that overcomes these problems: the fascicular shift procedure (FSP). A fascicular group of the nerve distal to the injury is harvested in a sufficient length to bridge the nerve defect.
The method of fascicular shifting was tested at the sciatic nerve in 45 Lewis rats. In the experimental group, a 15-mm nerve defect was created and reconstructed with a fascicular group that was harvested directly distal to the gap. This group was compared with 1 negative control group (defect without reconstruction) and 3 positive control groups (sensory, motor, and mixed graft). After 12 weeks of nerve regeneration, outcome was evaluated using retrograde labeling, histomorphometric analysis, and muscle force analysis.
All reconstructed groups showed successful regeneration with various levels of function. The negative control group showed minimal force measurements that were of no functional value. The fascicular shift provided sufficient guidance to overcome nerve defects, had higher (p < 0.1) motor neuron counts (1958.75 ± 657.21) than the sensory graft (1263.50 ± 538.90), and was equal to motor grafts (1490.43 ± 794.80) and mixed grafts (1720.00 ± 866.421). This tendency of improved motor regeneration was confirmed in all analyses. The mixed graft group was compared with the experimental group to investigate the influence of the potential damage induced by the fascicular shift distal to the repair site. However, none of the analyses revealed an impairment of nerve regeneration for both the tibial and common peroneal index muscles.
This study demonstrates that harvesting a transplant from the nerve segment distal to the injury site offers a mixed graft without causing additional donor-site morbidity. These grafts perform statistically better than a standard sensory graft in terms of motor recovery. The fascicular shift presents a novel method to reconstruct large proximal nerve defects, making it immensely attractive in brachial plexus reconstruction.