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Keywords:

  • axotomy;
  • nerve regeneration;
  • nerve repair

Abstract

Behavioral function lost in mammals (including humans) after peripheral nerve severance is slowly (weeks to years) and often poorly restored by 1–2-mm/day, nonspecifically directed outgrowths from proximal axonal stumps. To survive, proximal stumps must quickly repair (seal) plasmalemmal damage. We report that, after complete cut- or crush-severance of rat sciatic nerves, morphological continuity, action potential conduction, and behavioral functions can be consistently (>98% of trials), rapidly (minutes to days), dramatically (70–85% recovery), and chronically restored and some Wallerian degeneration prevented. We assess axoplasmic and axolemmal continuity by intra-axonal dye diffusion and action potential conduction across the lesion site and amount of behavioral recovery by Sciatic Functional Index and Foot Fault tests. We apply well-specified sequences of solutions containing FDA-approved chemicals. First, severed axonal ends are opened and resealing is prevented by hypotonic Ca2+-free saline containing antioxidants (especially methylene blue) that inhibit plasmalemmal sealing in sciatic nerves in vivo, ex vivo, and in rat B104 hippocampal cells in vitro. Second, a hypotonic solution of polyethylene glycol (PEG) is applied to open closely apposed (by microsutures, if cut) axonal ends to induce their membranes to flow rapidly into each other (PEG-fusion), consistent with data showing that PEG rapidly seals (PEG-seals) transected neurites of B104 cells, independently of any known endogenous sealing mechanism. Third, Ca2+-containing isotonic saline is applied to induce sealing of any remaining plasmalemmal holes by Ca2+-induced accumulation and fusion of vesicles. These and other data suggest that PEG-sealing is neuroprotective, and our PEG-fusion protocols that repair cut- and crush-severed rat nerves might rapidly translate to clinical procedures. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.