Synthetic hydrogel guidance channels facilitate regeneration of adult rat brainstem motor axons after complete spinal cord transection

Eve C Tsai, Paul D Dalton, Molly S Shoichet, Charles H Tator
Journal of Neurotrauma 2004, 21 (6): 789-804
Synthetic guidance channels or tubes have been shown to promote axonal regeneration within the spinal cord from brainstem motor nuclei with the inclusion of agents such as matrices, cells, or growth factors to the tube. We examined the biocompatibility and regenerative capacity of synthetic hydrogel tubular devices that were composed of poly(2-hydroxyethyl methacrylate-co-methyl methacrylate) (PHEMA-MMA). Two PHEMA-MMA channels, having a mean elastic modulus of either 177 or 311 kPa were implanted into T8-transected spinal cords of adult Sprague Dawley rats. The cord stumps were inserted into the channels and fibrin glue was applied to the cord-channel interface. An expanded polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) membrane was used for duraplasty. Controls underwent cord transection alone. Gross and microscopic examination of the spinal cords showed continuity of tissue within the synthetic guidance channels between the cord stumps at 4 and 8 weeks. There was a trend towards an increased area and width of bridging neural tissue in the 311-kPa guidance channels compared to the 177-kPa channels. Neurofilament stained axons were visualized within the bridging tissue, and serotonergic axons were found to enter the 311-kPa channel. Retrograde axonal tracing revealed regeneration of axons from reticular, vestibular, and raphe brainstem motor nuclei. For both channels, there was minimal scarring at the channel-cord interface, and less scarring at the channel-dura interface compared to that observed next to the ePTFE. The present study is the first to show that axons from brainstem motor nuclei regenerated in unfilled synthetic hydrogel guidance channels after complete spinal cord transection.

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