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J Neurosci. 2002 Dec 1;22(23):10408-15.

Metalloproteinase-dependent predegeneration in vitro enhances axonal regeneration within acellular peripheral nerve grafts.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics (Neurology Division), Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, Florida 32610-0296, USA.


Injury to peripheral nerve initiates a degenerative process that converts the denervated nerve from a suppressive environment to one that promotes axonal regeneration. We investigated the role of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) in this degenerative process and whether effective predegenerated nerve grafts could be produced in vitro. Rat peripheral nerve explants were cultured for 1-7 d in various media, and their neurite-promoting activity was assessed by cryoculture assay, in which neurons are grown directly on nerve sections. The neurite-promoting activity of cultured nerves increased rapidly and, compared with uncultured nerve, a maximum increase of 72% resulted by 2 d of culture in the presence of serum. Remarkably, the neurite-promoting activity of short-term cultured nerves was also significantly better than nerves degenerated in vivo. We examined whether in vitro degeneration is MMP dependent and found that the MMP inhibitor N-[(2R)-2(hydroxamidocarbonylmethyl)-4-methylpantanoyl]-l-tryptophan methylamide primarily blocked the degenerative increase in neurite-promoting activity. In the absence of hematogenic macrophages, MMP-9 was trivial, whereas elevated MMP-2 expression and activation paralleled the increase in neurite-promoting activity. MMP-2 immunoreactivity localized to Schwann cells and the endoneurium and colocalized with gelatinolytic activity as demonstrated by in situ zymography. Finally, in vitro predegenerated nerves were tested as acellular grafts and, compared with normal acellular nerve grafts, axonal ingress in vivo was approximately doubled. We conclude that Schwann cell expression of MMP-2 plays a principal role in the degenerative process that enhances the regeneration-promoting properties of denervated nerve. Combined with their low immunogenicity, acellular nerve grafts activated by in vitro predegeneration may be a significant advancement for clinical nerve allografting.

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