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Objective

Traumatic peripheral nerve injuries often produce permanent functional deficits despite optimal surgical and medical management. One reason for the impaired target organ reinnervation is degradation of motor endplates during prolonged denervation. Here we investigate the effect of preserving agrin on the stability of denervated endplates. Because matrix metalloproteinase 3 (MMP3) is known to degrade agrin, we examined the changes in endplate structure following traumatic nerve injury in MMP3 knockout mice.

Methods

After creation of a critical size nerve defect to preclude reinnervation, we characterized receptor area, receptor density, and endplate morphology in denervated plantaris muscles in wild-type and MMP3 null mice. The level of agrin and muscle-specific kinase (MuSK) was assessed at denervated endplates. In addition, denervated muscles were subjected to ex vivo stimulation with acetylcholine. Finally, reinnervation potential was compared after long-term denervation.

Results

In wild-type mice, the endplates demonstrated time-dependent decreases in area and receptor density and conversion to an immature receptor phenotype. In striking contrast, all denervation-induced changes were attenuated in MMP3 null mice, with endplates retaining their differentiated form. Agrin and MuSK were preserved in endplates from denervated MMP3 null animals. Furthermore, denervated muscles from MMP3 null mice demonstrated greater endplate efficacy and reinnervation.

Interpretation

These results demonstrate a critical role for MMP3 in motor endplate remodeling, and reveal a potential target for therapeutic intervention to prevent motor endplate degradation following nerve injury. ANN NEUROL 2013;73:210–223