Effect of local application of transforming growth factor-β at the nerve repair site following chronic axotomy and denervation on the expression of regeneration-associated genes. Laboratory investigation

J Neurosurg. 2014 Oct;121(4):859-74. doi: 10.3171/2014.4.JNS131251. Epub 2014 Jul 18.


Objectives: Although peripheral nerves can regenerate after traumatic injury, functional recovery is often suboptimal, especially after injuries to large nerve trunks such as the sciatic nerve or brachial plexus. Current research with animal models suggests that the lack of functional recovery resides in the lack of sufficient mature axons reaching their targets due to the loss of neurotrophic support by Schwann cells in the distal stump of injured nerves. This study was designed to investigate the effect of one-time application of transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) at the repair site of chronically injured nerve.

Methods: The authors used the rat tibial nerve injury and repair model to investigate the effects of application of physiological concentrations of TGF-β plus forskolin or forskolin alone in vivo at the repair site on gene and protein expression and axon regeneration at 6 weeks after nerve repair. They used gene expression profiling and immunohistochemical analysis of indicative activated proteins in Schwann cells to evaluate the effects of treatments on the delayed repair. They also quantified the regenerated axons distal to the repair site by microscopy of paraffin sections.

Results: Both treatment with forskolin only and treatment with TGF-β plus forskolin resulted in increased numbers of axons regenerated compared with saline-only control. There was robust activation and proliferation of both Schwann cells and macrophages reminiscent of the processes during Wallerian degeneration. The treatment also induced upregulation of genes implicated in cellular activation and growth as detected by gene array.

Conclusions: Addition of TGF-β plus forskolin to the repair after chronic nerve injury improved axonal regeneration, probably via upregulation of required genes, expression of growth-associated protein, and reactivation of Schwann cells and macrophages. Further studies are required to better understand the mechanism of the positive effect of TGF-β treatment on old nerve injuries.

Keywords: BSA = bovine serum albumin; DAB = diaminobenzidine; GDNF = glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor; HRP = horseradish peroxidase; RAG = regenerationassociated gene; RAGP = RAG product; TGF-β = transforming growth factor–β; chronic nerve injury; functional recovery; nerve regeneration; peripheral nerve; regeneration-associated genes; transforming growth factor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axotomy
  • Denervation
  • Gene Expression / drug effects*
  • Macrophages
  • Nerve Regeneration / drug effects*
  • Nerve Regeneration / genetics*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Schwann Cells
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / administration & dosage*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / pharmacology
  • Trauma, Nervous System / drug therapy


  • Transforming Growth Factor beta