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Keywords:

  • sprouting;
  • neurotrophin;
  • skin biopsy;
  • collateral branch

Abstract

Two distinct patterns of reinnervation occur after injury to the cutaneous nerves: regenerative growth of the injured nerve and “collateral sprouting” of neighboring intact nerves. We describe two complementary models of regrowth of transected small sensory fibers in human skin. The “incision” model uses a circular incision that transects the subepidermal plexus, resulting in Wallerian degeneration of the nerve fibers that enter the incised cylinder, leaving a defined zone of denervated dermis and epidermis. The “excision” model utilizes an identical incision, followed by removal of the incised cylinder of skin, leaving a denervated area in which Schwann cells are absent. In the incision model, the earliest reinervation of denervated epidermis occurred by collateral sprouting from the terminals of epidermal axons from just outside the incision line. These axon terminals extended horizontally across the incision line and through the superficial layers of the epidermis, beneath the stratum corneum. By 13 days, numerous regenerating axons appeared in the deeper dermis derived from transected axons. These regenerating axons grew toward and ultimately into the epidermis, so that epidermal axonal density had normalized by 30–75 days. The invasion of these axons was associated with regression of the horizontally growing collateral sprouts. In the excision model, new fibers arose by terminal elongation of the epidermal axons outside the incision line, as in the incision model, and especially by collateral branching of epidermal fibers at the incision margins. These collaterals reached the epidermal surface of the basal lamina at the dermal–epidermal junction and then grew slowly toward the center of the denervated circle. In contrast to the incision model, however, complete reinnervation was not achieved even after 23 months. These models can be used to study reinnervation of denervated skin in man in different injury models and have relevance for exploring the stimuli for axonal growth and remodeling. J. Comp. Neurol. 457:24–36, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.