Local injection of autologous bone marrow cells to regenerate muscle in patients with traumatic brachial plexus injury: a pilot study

Bone Joint Res. 2014 Feb 24;3(2):38-47. doi: 10.1302/2046-3758.32.2000229. Print 2014.


Objectives: Traumatic brachial plexus injury causes severe functional impairment of the arm. Elbow flexion is often affected. Nerve surgery or tendon transfers provide the only means to obtain improved elbow flexion. Unfortunately, the functionality of the arm often remains insufficient. Stem cell therapy could potentially improve muscle strength and avoid muscle-tendon transfer. This pilot study assesses the safety and regenerative potential of autologous bone marrow-derived mononuclear cell injection in partially denervated biceps.

Methods: Nine brachial plexus patients with insufficient elbow flexion (i.e., partial denervation) received intramuscular escalating doses of autologous bone marrow-derived mononuclear cells, combined with tendon transfers. Effect parameters included biceps biopsies, motor unit analysis on needle electromyography and computerised muscle tomography, before and after cell therapy.

Results: No adverse effects in vital signs, bone marrow aspiration sites, injection sites, or surgical wound were seen. After cell therapy there was a 52% decrease in muscle fibrosis (p = 0.01), an 80% increase in myofibre diameter (p = 0.007), a 50% increase in satellite cells (p = 0.045) and an 83% increase in capillary-to-myofibre ratio (p < 0.001) was shown. CT analysis demonstrated a 48% decrease in mean muscle density (p = 0.009). Motor unit analysis showed a mean increase of 36% in motor unit amplitude (p = 0.045), 22% increase in duration (p = 0.005) and 29% increase in number of phases (p = 0.002).

Conclusions: Mononuclear cell injection in partly denervated muscle of brachial plexus patients is safe. The results suggest enhanced muscle reinnervation and regeneration. Cite this article: Bone Joint Res 2014;3:38-47.

Keywords: Autologous bone marrow injection; Brachial plexus; Partial muscle denervation.

Grants and funding

Dutch Arthritis Association (project number LLR13) and Translational Research of ZonMw, The Netherlands organisation for health research and development (project number 95100105)