Treadmill training promotes axon regeneration in injured peripheral nerves

Exp Neurol. 2008 Jun;211(2):489-93. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2008.02.013. Epub 2008 Mar 5.


Physical activity after spinal cord injury promotes improvements in motor function, but its effects following peripheral nerve injury are less clear. Although axons in peripheral nerves are known to regenerate better than those in the CNS, methods of accelerating regeneration are needed due to the slow overall rate of growth. Therefore we studied the effect of two weeks of treadmill locomotion on the growth of regenerating axons in peripheral nerves following injury. The common fibular nerves of thy-1-YFP-H mice, in which a subset of axons in peripheral nerves express yellow fluorescent protein (YFP), were cut and repaired with allografts from non-fluorescent littermates, and then harvested two weeks later. Mice were divided into groups of low-intensity continuous training (CT, 60 min), low-intensity interval training (IT; one group, 10 reps, 20 min total), and high-intensity IT (three groups, 2, 4, and 10 reps). One repetition consisted of 2 min of running and 5 min of rest. Sixty minutes of CT resulted in the highest exercise volume, whereas 2 reps of IT resulted in the lowest volume of exercise. The lengths of regenerating YFP(+) axons were measured in images of longitudinal optical sections of nerves. Axon profiles were significantly longer than control in all exercise groups except the low-intensity IT group. In the CT group and the high-intensity IT groups that trained with 4 or 10 repetitions axons were more than twice as long as unexercised controls. The number of intervals did not impact axon elongation. Axon sprouting was enhanced in IT groups but not the CT group. Thus exercise, even in very small quantities, increases axon elongation in injured peripheral nerves whereas continuous exercise resulting in higher volume (total steps) may have no net impact on axon sprouting.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Exercise Test / methods*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiology*
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal / methods*