Exercise, in the form of moderate daily treadmill training following nerve transection and repair leads to enhanced axon regeneration, but its effect on functional recovery is less well known. Female rats were exercised by walking continuously, at a slow speed (10 m/min), for 1 h/day on a level treadmill, beginning 3 days after unilateral transection and surgical repair of the sciatic nerve, and conducted 5 days/wk for 2 wk. In Trained rats, both direct muscle responses to tibial nerve stimulation and H reflexes in soleus reappeared earlier and increased in amplitude more rapidly over time than in Untrained rats. The efficacy of the restored H reflex was greater in Trained rats than in Untrained controls. The reinnervated tibialis anterior and soleus were coactivated during treadmill locomotion in Untrained rats. In Trained animals, the pattern of activation of soleus, but not tibialis anterior, was not significantly different from that found in Intact rats. The overall length of the hindlimb during level and up- and downslope locomotion was conserved after nerve injury in both groups. This conservation was achieved by changes in limb orientation. Limb length was conserved effectively in all rats during downslope walking but only in Trained rats during level and upslope walking. Moderate daily exercise applied immediately after sciatic nerve transection is sufficient to promote axon regeneration, to restore muscle reflexes, and to improve the ability of rats to cope with different biomechanical demands of slope walking.
Keywords: axon regeneration; exercise; peripheral nerve.