Chapter 24: Electrical stimulation for improving nerve regeneration: where do we stand?

Int Rev Neurobiol. 2009;87:433-44. doi: 10.1016/S0074-7742(09)87024-4.


While injured neurons regenerate their axons in the peripheral nervous system, it is well recognized that functional recovery is frequently poor. Animal experiments in which injured motoneurons remain without peripheral targets (chronic axotomy) and Schwann cells in distal nerve stumps remain without innervation (chronic denervation) revealed that it is the duration of chronic axotomy and Schwann cell denervation that accounts for this poor functional recovery and not irreversible muscle atrophy that has been so commonly thought to be the reason. More recently, we demonstrated that axon outgrowth across lesion sites is a major contributing factor to the long delays incurred between the injury and the reinnervation of denervated targets. In the rat, a period of 1 month transpires before all motoneurons regenerate their axons across a lesion site. We have developed a technique of 1 h low-frequency electrical stimulation (ES) of the proximal nerve stump just after surgical repair of a transected peripheral nerve that greatly accelerates axon outgrowth. This technique has been applied in patients after carpal tunnel release surgery where the ES promoted the regeneration of all median nerves to reinnervate thenar muscles within 6-8 months, which contrasted with failure of any injured nerves to reinnervate muscles in the same time frame without ES. These findings are very promising such that the ES method could become a clinically viable tool for accelerating axon regeneration and muscle reinnervation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiology
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiopathology
  • Recovery of Function
  • Wallerian Degeneration / physiopathology