Axonal regrowth through collagen tubes bridging the spinal cord to nerve roots

S Liu, P Peulve, O Jin, N Boisset, J Tiollier, G Said, M Tadie
Journal of Neuroscience Research 1997 August 15, 49 (4): 425-32
The capacity of central nervous system (CNS) axons to elongate from the spinal cord to the periphery throughout a tubular implant joining the ventral horn of the spinal cord to an avulsed root was investigated in a model of brachial plexus injury. The C5-C7 roots were avulsed by controlled traction and the C6 root was bridged to the spinal cord over a 3 mm gap by the use of a collagen cylinder containing or not containing an autologous nerve segment, or an autologous nerve graft. Nine months later, the functionality and the quality of the axonal regrowth was evaluated by electrophysiology, retrograde labelling of neurons, and histological examination of the gap area. A normal electromyogram of the biceps was observed in all animals where the C6 root was bridged to the spinal cord. The mean average amplitude of the motor evoked potentials was comprised between 17.51 +/- 12.03 microV in animals repaired with a collagen cylinder, and 27.83 +/- 22.62 microV when a nerve segment was introduced in the tube. In nonrepaired animals spontaneous potentials reflecting a muscle denervation were observed at electromyography. Retrograde labelling indicated that a mean number of 58.88 +/- 37.89 spinal cord neurons have reinnervated the biceps in animals repaired with a tube versus 78.38 +/- 62.11 when a nerve segment was introduced in the channel, and 97.25 +/- 56.23 in nerve grafting experiments. Analyses of the repair site showed the presence of numerous myelinated regenerating axons. In conclusion, our results indicate that spinal cord neurons can regenerate through tubular implants over a 3 mm gap, and that this axonal regrowth appeared as effective as in nerve grafting experiments. The combination of an implant and a nerve segment did not significantly increase the regeneration rate.

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