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Keywords:

  • optimal models;
  • myelinated nerve fibers;
  • Rattus norvegicus;
  • conduction velocity;
  • implantable electrodes

Abstract

Correspondence between the nerve composition and the functional characteristics of its fiber populations is not always evident. To investigate such correspondence and to give a systematic picture of the morphology of the rat hind limb nerves, extensive morphometric study was performed on the sciatic nerve, its founding dorsal and ventral spinal roots, and its major branches. Nerve histology was examined in semithin sections via microscopic image analysis. Variation in the density of myelinated fibers, fiber interspace, and nerve cross-sectional area was studied in individual roots and nerves. In the dorsal roots, fiber numbers and cross-sectional areas were directly linearly proportional to the spinal root level number. Constituent fiber populations were identified using multicomponent lognormal models, and an optimal model for every nerve or root was selected by using an information theoretic approach. For the dorsal and ventral roots and the sciatic and peroneal nerves, optimal fiber population models consisted of three components, whereas, for the tibial and sural nerves, two components were optimal. Functional identities of the revealed fiber populations were established by using calculations of corresponding conduction velocities according to Arbuthnott et al. (J. Physiol. [1980] 308:125–157) and anatomical considerations. It is anticipated that morphological parameters established in this study would advance the development of neural prostheses in humans. The proximodistal correspondences among the fiber populations of different nerves were established by parametric statistical comparisons. The proposed approach provides a conceptual framework for understanding the comparative anatomy of the peripheral nerves and spinal roots and can be further applied in other species. J. Comp. Neurol. 503:85–100, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.