Improved functional recovery of denervated skeletal muscle after temporary sensory nerve innervation
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Prolonged muscle denervation results in poor functional recovery after nerve repair. The possible protective effect of temporary sensory innervation of denervated muscle, prior to motor nerve repair, has been examined in the rat. Soleus and gastrocnemius muscles were denervated by cutting the tibial nerve, and the peroneal nerve was then sutured to the transected distal tibial nerve stump either immediately or after two, four or six months. In half of the animals with delayed repair, the saphenous (sensory) nerve was temporarily attached to the distal nerve stump. Muscles were evaluated three months after the peroneal-to-tibial union, and were compared with each other, with unoperated control muscles and with untreated denervated muscles. After four to six months of sensory "protection", gastrocnemius muscles weighed significantly more than unprotected muscles, and both gastrocnemius and soleus muscles exhibited better preservation of their structure, with less fiber atrophy and connective tissue hyperplasia. The maximum compound action potentials were significantly larger in gastrocnemius and soleus muscles following sensory protection, irrespective of the delay in motor nerve union. Isometric force, although less than in control animals and in those with immediate nerve repair, remained reasonably constant after sensory protection, while in unprotected muscles there was a progressive and significant decline as the period of denervation lengthened. We interpret these results as showing that, although incapable of forming excitable neuromuscular junctions, sensory nerves can nevertheless exert powerful trophic effects on denervated muscle fibers. We propose that these findings indicate a useful strategy for improving the outcome of peripheral nerve surgery.
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