Poor functional recovery after peripheral nerve injury is attributable, at least in part, to chronic motoneuron axotomy and chronic Schwann cell (SC) denervation. While FK506 has been shown to accelerate the rate of nerve regeneration following a sciatic nerve crush or immediate nerve repair, for clinical application, it is important to determine whether the drug is effective after chronic nerve injuries. Two models were employed in the same adult rats using cross-sutures: chronic axotomy and chronic denervation of SCs. For chronic axotomy, a chronically (2 months) injured proximal tibial (TIB) was sutured to a freshly cut common peroneal (CP) nerve. For chronic denervation, a chronically (2 months) injured distal CP nerve was sutured to a freshly cut TIB nerve. Rats were given subcutaneous injections of FK506 or saline (5 mg/kg/day) for 3 weeks. In the chronic axotomy model, FK506 doubled the number of regenerated motoneurons identified by retrograde labeling (from 205 to 414 TIB motoneurons) and increased the numbers of myelinated axons (from 57 to 93 per 1000 microm2) and their myelin sheath thicknesses (from 0.42 to 0.78 microm) in the distal nerve stump. In contrast, after chronic denervation, FK506 did not improve the reduced capacity of SCs to support axonal regeneration. Taken together, the results suggest that FK506 acts directly on the neuron (as opposed to the denervated distal nerve stump) to accelerate and promote axonal regeneration of neurons whose regenerative capacity is significantly reduced by chronic axotomy.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).