Object. The authors conducted a study to determine the effects of using a nerve autograft (NAG) to promote and guide axonal regrowth from the rostral spinal cord to the caudal lumbar ventral nerve roots to restore hindlimb motor function in adult marmosets after lower thoracic cord injury.
Methods. Nine animals underwent a left-sided hemisection of the spinal cord at T-12 via left-sided T9—L3 hemilaminectomy, with section of all ipsilateral lumbrosacral ventral nerve roots. In the experimental group (five animals), an NAG obtained from the right peroneal nerve was anastomosed with the sectioned and electrophysiologically selected lumbar ventral roots (left L-3 and L-4) controlling the left quadriceps muscle and then implanted into the left ventrolateral T-10 cord. In the control group (four animals), the sectioned/selected lumbar ventral roots were only ligated.
After surgery, all marmosets immediately suffered from complete paralysis of their left hindlimb. Five months later, some clinical signs of reinnervation such as tension and resistance began to appear in the paralyzed quadriceps of all experimental animals that received autografts. Nine months postoperatively, three of the five experimental marmosets could maintain their lesioned hindlimb in hip flexion. Muscle action potentials and motor evoked potentials were recorded from the target quadriceps in all experimental marmosets, but these potentials were absent in the control animals. Horseradish peroxidase retrograde labeling from the distal sectioned/reconnected lumbar ventral roots traced 234 ± 178 labeled neurons in the ipsilateral T8–10 ventral horn, mainly close to the NAG tip. Histological analysis showed numerous regenerating axons in this denervated/reconnected nerve root pathway, as well as newly formed motor endplates in the denervated/reinnervated quadriceps. No axonal regeneration was detected in the control animals.
Conclusions. These data indicate that the rostral spinal neurons can regrow into the caudal ventral roots through an NAG, thereby innervating the target muscle in adult marmosets after spinal cord injury.