Stewart Yeoh, Wesley S. Warner, Ilyas Eli, and Mark A. Mahan
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.
Stewart Yeoh and Mark A. Mahan
Mark A. Mahan, Wesley S. Warner, Stewart Yeoh, and Alan Light
Rapid-stretch nerve injuries are among the most devastating lesions to peripheral nerves, yielding unsatisfactory functional outcomes. No animal model has yet been developed that uses only stretch injury for investigation of the pathophysiology of clinical traction injuries. The authors’ objective was to define the behavioral and histopathological recovery after graded rapid-stretch nerve injury.
Four groups of male B6.Cg-Tg(Thy1-YFP)HJrs/J mice were tested: sham injury (n = 11); stretch within elastic limits (elastic group, n = 14); stretch beyond elastic limits but before nerve rupture (inelastic group, n = 14); and stretch-ruptured nerves placed in continuity (rupture group, n = 16). Mice were injured at 8 weeks of age, comparable with human late adolescence. Behavioral outcomes were assessed using the sciatic functional index (SFI), tapered-beam dexterity, Von Frey monofilament testing, and the Hargreaves method. Nerve regeneration outcomes were assessed by wet muscle weight and detailed nerve histology after 48 days.
Post hoc biomechanical assessment of strain and deformation confirmed that the differences between the elastic and inelastic cohorts were statistically significant. After elastic injury, there was a temporary increase in foot faults on the tapered beam (p < 0.01) and mild reduction in monofilament sensitivity, but no meaningful change in SFI, muscle weight, or nerve histology. For inelastic injuries, there was a profound and maintained decrease in SFI (p < 0.001), but recovery of impairment was observed in tapered-beam and monofilament testing by days 15 and 9, respectively. Histologically, axon counts were reduced (p = 0.04), muscle atrophy was present (p < 0.01), and there was moderate neuroma formation on trichrome and immunofluorescent imaging. Stretch-ruptured nerves healed in continuity but without evidence of regeneration. Substantial and continuous impairment was observed in SFI (p < 0.001), tapered beam (p < 0.01), and monofilament (p < 0.01 until day 48). Axon counts (p < 0.001) and muscle weight (p < 0.0001) were significantly reduced, with little evidence of axonal or myelin regeneration concurrent with neuroma formation on immunofluorescent imaging.
The 3 biomechanical grades of rapid-stretch nerve injuries displayed consistent and distinct behavioral and histopathological outcomes. Stretch within elastic limits resembled neurapraxic injuries, whereas injuries beyond elastic limits demonstrated axonotmesis coupled with impoverished regeneration and recovery. Rupture injuries uniquely failed to regenerate, despite physical continuity of the nerve. This is the first experimental evidence to correlate stretch severity with functional and histological outcomes. Future studies should focus on the pathophysiological mechanisms that reduce regenerative capacity after stretch injury.
Daniel Umansky and Rajiv Midha