Author(s): Chamberlain LJ, Hsu HP, Spector M, Yannas IV
The presence of contractile cells, their organization around regenerating nerve trunks, and the hypothetical effect of these organized structures on the extent of regeneration across a tubulated 10-mm gap in the rat sciatic nerve were investigated. Collagen and silicone tubes were implanted both empty and filled with a collagen-glycosaminoglycan (GAG) matrix. Nerves were retrieved at 6, 30, and 60 weeks postoperatively and time-dependent values of the nerve trunk diameter along the tubulated length were recorded. The presence of myofibroblasts was identified immunohistochemically using a monoclonal antibody to alpha-smooth muscle actin. Myofibroblasts were circumferentially arranged around the perimeter of regenerated nerve trunks, forming a capsule which was about 10 times thicker in silicone tubes than in collagen tubes. The nerve trunk diameter that formed inside collagen tubes was twice as large as that inside silicone tubes. In contrast, the collagen-GAG matrix had a relatively small effect on capsule thickness or diameter of regenerate. It was hypothesized that the frequency of successful bridging by axons depends on the balance between two competitive forces: the axial forces generated by the outgrowth of axons and nonneuronal cells from the proximal stump and the constrictive, circumferential forces imposed by the contractile tissue capsule that promote closure of the wounded stumps and prevent axon elongation. Because the presence of the collagen-GAG matrix has enhanced greatly the recovery of normal function of regenerates in silicone tubes, it was hypothesized that it accelerated axonal elongation sufficiently before the hypothetical forces constricting the nerve trunk in silicone tubes became sufficiently large. The combined data suggest a new mechanism for peripheral nerve regeneration along a tubulated gap.