Background and purpose: Improvement in axonal regeneration may lead to the development of longer nerve grafts and improved outcomes for patients with peripheral nerve injury. Although the use of acellular nerve grafts has been well documented (Groves et al, Exp Neurol. 2005;195:278-292; Krekoski et al, J Neurosci. 2001;21:6206-6213; Massey et al, Exp Neurol. 2008;209:426-445; Neubauer et al, Exp Neurol. 2007;207:163-170; Zuo et al, Exp Neurol. 2002;176:221-228), less is known about the ability of neurotrophic factors to enhance axonal regeneration. This study evaluates axonal ingrowth augmentation using acellular, chondroitinase-treated nerve grafts doped with nerve growth factor (NGF).
Methods: Acellular chondroitinase-treated murine nerve grafts were placed in experimental (NGF-treated grafts) and control (carrier-only grafts) rats. Five days after implantation, axonal regeneration was assessed by immunocytochemistry along with digital image analysis.
Results: Higher axon count was observed throughout the length of the nerve in the NGF group (P < 0.0001), peaking at 3 mm from proximal repair (P = 0.02). Although the NGF group displayed a higher axon count per slice, the mean diameter of individual NGF axons was smaller (P < 0.0001), potentially consistent with induction of sensory axons (Rich et al, J Neurocytol. 1987;16:261-268; Sofroniew et al, Annu Rev Neurosci. 2001;24:1217-1128; Yip et al, J Neurosci. 1984;4:2986-2992).
Conclusion: The simple technique of doping acellular, chondroitinase-treated nerve grafts with NGF can augment axonal ingrowth and possibly preferentially induce sensory axons.