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Khoa Pham and Ranjan Gupta

Compression neuropathies are highly prevalent, debilitating conditions with variable functional recovery following surgical decompression. Due to the limited amount of human nerve tissue available for analysis, a number of animal models have been created to help investigators understand the molecular and cellular pathogenesis of chronic nerve compression (CNC) injury. Evidence suggests that CNC injury induces concurrent Schwann cell proliferation and apoptosis in the early stages of the disorder. These proliferating Schwann cells downregulate myelin proteins, leading to local demyelination and remyelination in the region of injury. In addition, the downregulation of myelin proteins, in particular myelin-associated glycoprotein, allows for axonal sprouting. Interestingly, these changes occur in the absence of both morphological and electrophysiological evidence of axonal damage. This is in direct contrast to acute injuries, such as transection or crush, which are characterized by axonal injury followed by Wallerian degeneration. Because the accepted trigger for Schwann cell dedifferentiation is axonal injury, an alternate mechanism for Schwann response must exist in CNC injury. In vitro studies of pure Schwann cells have shown that these cells can respond directly to mechanical stimuli by downregulating myelin proteins and proliferating. These studies suggest that although the reciprocal relationship between neurons and glial cells is maintained, chronic nerve compression injury is a Schwann cell-mediated disease.

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Yerko A. Berrocal, Vania W. Almeida, Ranjan Gupta and Allan D. Levi

Object

Segmental nerve defects pose a daunting clinical challenge, as peripheral nerve injury studies have established that there is a critical nerve gap length for which the distance cannot be successfully bridged with current techniques. Construction of a neural prosthesis filled with Schwann cells (SCs) could provide an alternative treatment to successfully repair these long segmental gaps in the peripheral nervous system. The object of this study was to evaluate the ability of autologous SCs to increase the length at which segmental nerve defects can be bridged using a collagen tube.

Methods

The authors studied the use of absorbable collagen conduits in combination with autologous SCs (200,000 cells/μl) to promote axonal growth across a critical size defect (13 mm) in the sciatic nerve of male Fischer rats. Control groups were treated with serum only–filled conduits of reversed sciatic nerve autografts. Animals were assessed for survival of the transplanted SCs as well as the quantity of myelinated axons in the proximal, middle, and distal portions of the channel.

Results

Schwann cell survival was confirmed at 4 and 16 weeks postsurgery by the presence of prelabeled green fluorescent protein–positive SCs within the regenerated cable. The addition of SCs to the nerve guide significantly enhanced the regeneration of myelinated axons from the nerve stump into the proximal (p < 0.001) and middle points (p < 0.01) of the tube at 4 weeks. The regeneration of myelinated axons at 16 weeks was significantly enhanced throughout the entire length of the nerve guide (p < 0.001) as compared with their number in a serum–only filled tube and was similar in number compared with the reversed autograft. Autotomy scores were significantly lower in the animals whose sciatic nerve was repaired with a collagen conduit either without (p < 0.01) or with SCs (p < 0.001) when compared with a reversed autograft.

Conclusions

The technique of adding SCs to a guidance channel significantly enhanced the gap distance that can be repaired after peripheral nerve injury with long segmental defects and holds promise in humans. Most importantly, this study represents some of the first essential steps in bringing autologous SC-based therapies to the domain of peripheral nerve injuries with long segmental defects.

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Shao-Wei Feng, Huey-Kang Sytwu and Dueng-Yuan Hueng

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Ranjan Gupta, Justin P. Chan, Jennifer Uong, Winnie A. Palispis, David J. Wright, Sameer B. Shah, Samuel R. Ward, Thay Q. Lee and Oswald Steward

OBJECTIVE

Current management of traumatic peripheral nerve injuries is variable with operative decisions based on assumptions that irreversible degeneration of the human motor endplate (MEP) follows prolonged denervation and precludes reinnervation. However, the mechanism and time course of MEP changes after human peripheral nerve injury have not been investigated. Consequently, there are no objective measures by which to determine the probability of spontaneous recovery and the optimal timing of surgical intervention. To improve guidance for such decisions, the aim of this study was to characterize morphological changes at the human MEP following traumatic nerve injury.

METHODS

A prospective cohort (here analyzed retrospectively) of 18 patients with traumatic brachial plexus and axillary nerve injuries underwent biopsy of denervated muscles from the upper extremity from 3 days to 6 years after injury. Muscle specimens were processed for H & E staining and immunohistochemistry, with visualization via confocal and two-photon excitation microscopy.

RESULTS

Immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated varying degrees of fragmentation and acetylcholine receptor dispersion in denervated muscles. Comparison of denervated muscles at different times postinjury revealed progressively increasing degeneration. Linear regression analysis of 3D reconstructions revealed significant linear decreases in MEP volume (R = −0.92, R2 = 0.85, p = 0.001) and surface area (R = −0.75, R2 = 0.56, p = 0.032) as deltoid muscle denervation time increased. Surprisingly, innervated and structurally intact MEPs persisted in denervated muscle specimens from multiple patients 6 or more months after nerve injury, including 2 patients who had presented > 3 years after nerve injury.

CONCLUSIONS

This study details novel and critically important data about the morphology and temporal sequence of events involved in human MEP degradation after traumatic nerve injuries. Surprisingly, human MEPs not only persisted, but also retained their structures beyond the assumed 6-month window for therapeutic surgical intervention based on previous clinical studies. Preoperative muscle biopsy in patients being considered for nerve transfer may be a useful prognostic tool to determine MEP viability in denervated muscle, with surviving MEPs also being targets for adjuvant therapy.