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J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2001 Jan;60(1):85-93.

Matrix metalloproteinase expression and inhibition after sciatic nerve axotomy.

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Department of Neuropathology, Charité, Humboldt-Universität, Campus Virchow-Klinikum, Berlin, Germany.


Wallerian degeneration is characterized by breakdown of myelin and axons with subsequent macrophage infiltration and removal of the degenerating nerve components. Proteinases of the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) family seem to play an important role in demyelinating processes, since some of their members have been shown to cleave myelin basic protein. In the present study we investigated the expression of MMP-2 and MMP-9 (gelatinases A and B) during myelin removal after peripheral nerve trauma. After transection of the sciatic nerve an upregulation of MMP-2 and MMP-9 with a first peak 12 h and a second peak 48 h after axotomy was observed by zymography. These peaks correlate with the breakdown of the blood-nerve barrier, the accumulation of granulocytes, and the invasion of macrophages into the damaged nerves, respectively. Furthermore, MMP-2 was found to be upregulated in the contralateral nontransected nerves. Immunocytochemistry for MMP-9 and in situ zymography identified MMP-reactive cells within the distal nerve stump. Chloracetate esterase staining was used to detect granulocytes, which accumulated at the transection site and were colocalized with the in situ zymography signal. Wallerian degeneration of the transected nerve could be delayed either by intraperitoneal injections of hydroxamate (Ro 31-9790), a nonspecific MMP inhibitor, or by local application of an MMP-9-specific antibody. Following these treatment strategies, a decreased number of invading macrophages was seen in the nerves associated with an increased amount of preserved myelin sheaths. These results suggest that the invasion of macrophages into a transected peripheral nerve is accompanied by an increased expression of MMPs, particularly MMP-9. Thus, MMPs may seem to play an important role in the breakdown of the blood-nerve barrier and subsequent cell recruitment from the systemic circulation into the damaged nerve.

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