Objectives: We review the state-of-the-art neurobiology of nerve injury and regeneration, especially as it relates to return of useful function in patients who have sustained injuries to large nerve trunks such as the brachial plexus.
Methods: This review focuses on research conducted in our laboratory at Ochsner and at other laboratories related to the neurobiology of nerve injury with emphasis on how some of the key findings from animal research help us understand the pathophysiology of poor functional recovery after nerve injury.
Conclusions: Published research on the neurobiology of nerve injury and regeneration strongly suggests that chronic Schwann cell denervation, chronic neuronal axotomy, and misdirection of regenerating axons into wrong endoneurial tubes are primarily responsible for poor functional recovery. The effect of muscle denervation atrophy is secondary. Experimental therapeutic strategies (which we are currently investigating in our laboratory at Ochsner) to combat these 3 neurobiologic phenomena have the potential to improve the return of function in patients who have sustained nerve injuries.
Keywords: Axotomy; Schwann cells; cytokines; denervation; nerve growth factors; nerve regeneration; neurobiology; peripheral nerve injuries; recovery of function.