Glial-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF) have both been shown to enhance peripheral nerve regeneration following injury and target different neuronal populations. The delivery of either growth factor at the site of injury may, therefore, result in quantitative differences in motor nerve regeneration and functional recovery. In this study we evaluated the effect of affinity-based delivery of GDNF or NGF from fibrin-filled nerve guidance conduits (NGCs) on motor nerve regeneration and functional recovery in a 13 mm rat sciatic nerve defect. Seven experimental groups were evaluated consisting of GDNF or NGF and the affinity-based delivery system (DS) within NGCs, control groups excluding the DS and/or growth factor, and nerve isografts. Groups with growth factor in the conduit demonstrated equivalent or superior performance in behavioral tests and relative muscle mass measurements compared to isografts at 12 weeks. Additionally, groups with GDNF demonstrated greater specific twitch and tetanic force production in extensor digitorum longus (EDL) muscle than the isograft control, while groups with NGF produced demonstrated similar force production compared to the isograft control. Assessment of motor axon regeneration by retrograde labeling further revealed that the number of ventral horn neurons regenerating across NGCs containing GDNF and NGF DS was similar to the isograft group and these counts were greater than the groups without growth factor. Overall, the GDNF DS group demonstrated superior functional recovery and equivalent motor nerve regeneration compared to the isograft control, suggesting it has potential as a treatment for motor nerve injury. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2010;106: 970–979. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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