Regeneration of respiratory pathways within spinal peripheral nerve grafts

Exp Neurol. 1996 Jan;137(1):1-14. doi: 10.1006/exnr.1996.0001.


Central respiratory neurons exhibit normal activity after axonal regeneration within blind-ended peripheral nerve grafts (PNGs) inserted near the corresponding cell bodies in the medullary respiratory centers. Part of these medullary respiratory neurons project toward the spinal cord and contribute to descending respiratory pathways that control respiratory motoneurons. The present work investigates to what extent cervical respiratory pathways could be directed out of the central nervous system within PNGs inserted distant to the medullary respiratory nuclei. In adult rats (n = 13), autologous segments of the peroneal nerve were implanted into the ventrolateral part of the C2 spinal cord at the level of the descending respiratory pathways. Two to four months after grafting, electrophysiological recording of teased graft filaments (n = 562) revealed the presence of regenerated nerve fibers with unitary impulse traffic (n = 164) in all tested PNGs (n = 6). Respiratory discharges (n = 52) corresponded to efferent and afferent activity. Efferent respiratory discharges (n = 32) originated from central respiratory neurons which remained functional and preserved afferent connections. Retrograde horseradish peroxidase labeling applied to the distal cut end of PNGs (n = 7) revealed stained (42/1997) neurons in areas where respiratory cells have been described. Afferent respiratory discharges (n = 20) were synchronized with lung inflation but their origin (stretch pulmonary receptors and/or respiratory muscle receptors) was not determined. On the basis of additional data from light and electron microscopy of PNGs, comparison was made between anatomical, retrograde labeling, and electrophysiological data. The main conclusion is that spinal PNGs appear to be able to promote axonal regeneration of functional respiratory efferent and afferent pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Female
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Regeneration*
  • Respiratory Center / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*
  • Tissue Transplantation