Electrical Stimulation Restores the Specificity of Sensory Axon Regeneration

Exp Neurol. 2005 Jul;194(1):221-9. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2005.02.007.


Electrical stimulation at the time of nerve repair promotes motoneurons to reinnervate appropriate pathways leading to muscle and stimulates sensory neurons to regenerate. The present experiments examine the effects of electrical stimulation on the specificity of sensory axon regeneration. The unoperated rat femoral cutaneous branch is served by 2-3 times more DRG neurons than is the muscle branch. After transection and repair of the femoral trunk, equal numbers of DRG neurons project to both branches. However, 1 h of electrical stimulation restores the normal proportion of DRG neurons reinnervating skin and muscle. To ask if the redistribution of stimulated neurons results from enhanced specificity of target reinnervation, we developed a new technique of sequential double labeling. DRG neurons projecting to the femoral muscle branch were prelabeled with Fluoro Gold 2 weeks before the nerve was transected proximally and repaired with or without 1 h of 20-Hz electrical stimulation. Three weeks after repair, the muscle nerve was labeled a second time with Fluororuby. The percentage of regenerating neurons that both originally served muscle and returned to muscle after nerve repair increased from 40% without stimulation to 75% with stimulation. Electrical stimulation thus dramatically alters the distribution of regenerating sensory axons, replacing normally random behavior with selective reinnervation of tissue-specific targets. If the enhanced regeneration specificity resulting from electrical stimulation is found to improve function in a large animal model, this convenient and safe technique may be a useful adjunct to clinical nerve repair.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport / physiology
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Axotomy
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Dextrans
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Femoral Nerve / physiology*
  • Ganglia, Spinal / physiology*
  • Growth Cones / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rhodamines
  • Staining and Labeling / methods
  • Stilbamidines


  • 2-hydroxy-4,4'-diamidinostilbene, methanesulfonate salt
  • Dextrans
  • Fluoro-Ruby
  • Rhodamines
  • Stilbamidines