This review considers the 2 sources of neurotrophic factors in the peripheral nervous system (PNS), the neurons and the nonneuronal cells in the denervated distal nerve stumps, and their role in axon regeneration. Morphological assessment of regenerative success in response to administration of exogenous growth factors after nerve injury and repair has indicated a role of the endogenous neurotrophic factors from Schwann cells in the distal nerve stump. However, the increased number of axons may reflect more neurons regenerating their axons and/or increased numbers of axon sprouts from the same number of neurons. Using fluorescent dyes to count neurons that regenerated their axons across a suture site and into distal nerve stumps, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and glial cell–derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) were found not to increase the number of neurons that regenerated their axons after immediate nerve repair. Nevertheless, the factors did reverse the deleterious effect of delayed nerve repair, indicating that the axons that regenerate into the distal nerve stump normally have access to sufficient levels of endogenous neurotrophic factors to sustain their regeneration, while neurons that do not have access to these factors require exogenous factors to sustain axon regeneration. Neurons upregulate neurotrophic factors after axotomy. The upregulation is normally slow, beginning after 7 days and occurring in association with a protracted period of axonal regeneration in which axons grow out from the proximal nerve stump across a suture site over a period of 1 month in rodents. This staggered axon regeneration across the suture site is accelerated by a 1-hour period of low-frequency electrical stimulation that simultaneously accelerates the expression of BDNF and its trkB receptor in the neurons. Elevation of the level of BDNF after 2 days to > 3 times that found in unstimulated neurons was accompanied by elevation of the level of cAMP and followed by accelerated upregulation of growth-associated genes, tubulin, actin, and GAP-43 and downregulation of neurofilament protein. Elevation of cAMP levels via rolipram inhibition of phosphodiesterase 4 mimicked the effect of the low-frequency electrical stimulation. In conclusion, the enhanced upregulation of neurotrophic factors in the electrically stimulated axotomized neurons accelerates axon outgrowth into the distal nerve stumps where endogenous sources of growth factors in the Schwann cells support the regeneration of the axons toward the denervated targets. The findings provide strong support for endogenous neurotrophic factors of axotomized neurons and of denervated Schwann cells playing a critical role in supporting axon regeneration in the PNS.
Olawale A. R. Sulaiman and Tessa Gordon
Functional recovery is disappointing after surgical repair of nerves that are injured far from their target organs and/or after delayed repair. In the former case, a nerve transfer that transects a distal nerve fascicle to innervate denervated targets is one strategy to promote nerve regeneration and functional recovery. An alternate strategy tested in this study is to perform an end-to-side neurorrhaphy to “babysit” (protect) the denervated distal nerve stump at the time of nerve repair and reduce the deleterious effect of chronic denervation on nerve regeneration.
In the hindlimbs of Sprague-Dawley rats, the common peroneal (CP) nerve was transected unilaterally and the distal CP nerve stump inserted through a perineurial window into the intact tibial (TIB) nerve, i.e., CP-TIB end-to-side neurorrhaphy. In the first experiment, TIB nerve motoneurons that had regenerated and/or sprouted axons into the CP nerve within 3 months were stimulated to elicit contractions, and thereafter, identified with retrograde dyes for counting. In the second experiment, the intact TIB nerve was transected and cross-sutured to a 3-month chronically denervated distal CP nerve stump that had either been “protected” by ingrown TIB nerves after CP-TIB neurorrhaphy or remained chronically denervated. Thereafter, the number of retrogradely labeled TIB nerve motoneurons that had regenerated their nerves within 3 months were counted and reinnervated tibialis anterior (TA) muscles weighed.
A mean (± SE) of 231 ± 83 TIB nerve motoneurons grew into the end-to-side CP distal nerve stump with corresponding ankle flexion; 32% regenerated their axons and 24% sprouted axons from the intact TIB nerve, eliciting ankle flexor-extensor co-contraction. In the second experiment, after a 3-month period of TIB nerve regeneration, significantly more TIB motoneurons regenerated their axons into “protected” than “unprotected” CP distal nerve stumps within 3 months (mean 332 ± 43.6 vs 235 ± 39.3 motoneurons) with corresponding and significantly higher numbers of regenerated nerve fibers, resulting in significantly better recovery of reinnervated TA muscle weight.
These experiments in rats demonstrated that delayed nerve repair is more effective when the deleterious effects of chronic denervation of the distal nerve stump are reduced by protecting the nerve stump with ingrowing nerve fibers across an end-to-side insertion of the distal nerve stump into a neighboring intact nerve. Such an end-to-side neurorrhaphy may be invaluable as a means of preventing the atrophy of distal nerve stumps and target organs after chronic denervation, which allows for effective reinnervation of the protected distal nerve stumps and target organs over distance and time.
Qing-Gui Xu, Joanne Forden, Sarah K. Walsh, Tessa Gordon and Rajiv Midha
Surgical repair of peripheral nerves following chronic nerve injury is associated with poor axonal regeneration and outcome. An underlying possibility is that chronic injuries may increase motoneuron cell death. The hypothesis that substantial motoneuron death follows chronic and sequential nerve injuries was tested in adult rats in this study.
Thirty adult male Lewis rats underwent bilateral multistage surgeries. At initial surgery, Fast Blue (FB) tracer was injected at a nerve-crush injury site in the right control femoral motor nerve. The left femoral motor nerve was transected at the same level and either capped to prevent regeneration (Group 1), or repaired to allow axonal regeneration and reinnervation of the target quadriceps muscle (Group 2) (15 rats in each group). After 8 weeks in 6 rats/group, the left femoral nerve was cut and exposed to FB just proximal to prior nerve capping or repair and the rats were evaluated for FB-labeled motoneuron counts bilaterally in the spinal cord (this was considered survival after initial injury). In the remaining 9 animals/group, the left nerve was recut (sequential injury), exposed to FB, and repaired to a fresh distal saphenous nerve stump to permit axonal regeneration. Following another 6 weeks, Fluoro-Gold, a second retrograde tracer, was applied to the cut distal saphenous nerve. This allowed us to evaluate the number of motoneurons that survived (maintained FB labeling) and the number of motoneurons that survived but that also regenerated axons (double labeled with FB and Fluoro-Gold).
A mean number of 350 and 392 FB-labeled motoneurons were found after 8 weeks of nerve injury on the right and the left sides, respectively. This indicated no significant cell death due to initial nerve injury alone. A similar number (mean 390) of motoneurons were counted at final end point at 14 weeks, indicating no significant cell death after sequential and chronic nerve injury. However, only 50% (mean 180) of the surviving motoneurons were double labeled, indicating that only half of the population regenerated their axons.
The hypothesis that significant motoneuron cell death occurs after chronic and or sequential nerve injury was rejected. Despite cell survival, only 50% of motoneurons are capable of exhibiting a regenerative response, consistent with our previous findings of reduced regeneration after chronic axotomy.
Bhagat Singh, Qing-Gui Xu, Colin K. Franz, Rumi Zhang, Colin Dalton, Tessa Gordon, Valerie M. K. Verge, Rajiv Midha and Douglas W. Zochodne
Regeneration of peripheral nerves is remarkably restrained across transection injuries, limiting recovery of function. Strategies to reverse this common and unfortunate outcome are limited. Remarkably, however, new evidence suggests that a brief extracellular electrical stimulation (ES), delivered at the time of injury, improves the regrowth of motor and sensory axons.
In this work, the authors explored and tested this ES paradigm, which was applied proximal to transected sciatic nerves in mice, and identified several novel and compelling impacts of the approach. Using thy-1 yellow fluorescent protein mice with fluorescent axons that allow serial in vivo tracking of regeneration, the morphological, electrophysiological, and behavioral indices of nerve regrowth were measured.
The authors show that ES is associated with a 30%–50% improvement in several indices of regeneration: regrowth of axons and their partnered Schwann cells across transection sites, maturation of regenerated fibers in gaps spanning transection zones, and entry of axons into their muscle and cutaneous target zones. In parallel studies, the authors analyzed adult sensory neurons and their response to extracellular ES while plated on a novel microelectrode array construct designed to deliver the identical ES paradigm used in vivo. The ES accelerated neurite outgrowth, supporting the concept of a neuron-autonomous mechanism of action.
Taken together, these results support a robust role for brief ES following peripheral nerve injuries in promoting regeneration. Electrical stimulation has a wider repertoire of impact than previously recognized, and its impact in vitro supports the hypothesis that a neuron-specific reprogrammed injury response is recruited by the ES protocol.