Autologous nerve grafting is the current standard of care for nerve injuries resulting in a nerve gap. This treatment requires the use of sensory grafts to reconstruct motor defects, but the consequences of mismatches between graft and native nerve are unknown. Motor pathways have been shown to preferentially support motoneuron regeneration. Functional outcome of motor nerve reconstruction depends on the magnitude, rate, and precision of end organ reinnervation. This study examined the role of pathway type on regeneration across a mixed nerve defect. Thirty-six Lewis rats underwent tibial nerve transection and received isogeneic motor, sensory or mixed nerve grafts. Histomorphometry of the regenerating nerves at 3 weeks demonstrated robust nerve regeneration through both motor and mixed nerve grafts. In contrast, poor nerve regeneration was seen through sensory nerve grafts, with significantly decreased nerve fiber count, percent nerve, and nerve density when compared with mixed and motor groups (P < 0.05). These data suggest that use of motor or mixed nerve grafts, rather than sensory nerve grafts, will optimize regeneration across mixed nerve defects.
- Motor neurons
- Nerve regeneration
- Preferential motor reinnervation
- Sensory neurons
- Tibial nerve