Wide-Field Functional Microscopy of Peripheral Nerve Injury and Regeneration

Sci Rep. 2018 Sep 18;8(1):14004. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-32346-w.


Severe peripheral nerve injuries often result in partial repair and lifelong disabilities in patients. New surgical techniques and better graft tissues are being studied to accelerate regeneration and improve functional recovery. Currently, limited tools are available to provide in vivo monitoring of changes in nerve physiology such as myelination and vascularization, and this has impeded the development of new therapeutic options. We have developed a wide-field and label-free functional microscopy platform based on angiographic and vectorial birefringence methods in optical coherence tomography (OCT). By incorporating the directionality of the birefringence, which was neglected in the previously reported polarization-sensitive OCT techniques for nerve imaging, vectorial birefringence contrast reveals internal nerve microanatomy and allows for quantification of local myelination with superior sensitivity. Advanced OCT angiography is applied in parallel to image the three-dimensional vascular networks within the nerve over wide-fields. Furthermore, by combining vectorial birefringence and angiography, intraneural vessels can be discriminated from those of the surrounding tissues. The technique is used to provide longitudinal imaging of myelination and revascularization in the rodent sciatic nerve model, i.e. imaged at certain sequential time-points during regeneration. The animals were exposed to either crush or transection injuries, and in the case of transection, were repaired using an autologous nerve graft or acellular nerve allograft. Such label-free functional imaging by the platform can provide new insights into the mechanisms that limit regeneration and functional recovery, and may ultimately provide intraoperative assessment in human subjects.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Microscopy
  • Neovascularization, Physiologic*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*
  • Nerve Regeneration*
  • Peripheral Nerve Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Sciatic Nerve / blood supply
  • Sciatic Nerve / injuries
  • Sciatic Nerve / pathology*
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence