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J Cell Biol. 1997 Nov 3;139(3):709-15.

Neurotrophin-3-enhanced nerve regeneration selectively improves recovery of muscle fibers expressing myosin heavy chains 2b.

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  • 1Blond McIndoe Centre, Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, West Sussex RH19 3DZ, United Kingdom.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of neurotrophin 3 (NT-3) enhanced nerve regeneration on the reinnervation of a target muscle. Muscle fibers can be classified according to their mechanical properties and myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform composition. MHC1 containing slow-type and MHC2a or 2b fast-type fibers are normally distributed in a mosaic pattern, their phenotype dictated by motor innervation. After denervation, all fibers switch to fast-type MHC2b expression and also undergo atrophy resulting in loss of muscle mass. After regeneration, discrimination between fast and slow fibers returns, but the distribution and fiber size change according to the level of reinnervation. In this study, rat gastrocnemius muscles (ipsilateral and contralateral to the side of nerve injury) were collected up to 8 mo after nerve repair, with or without local delivery of NT-3. The phenotype changes of MHC1, 2a, and 2b were analyzed by immunohistochemistry, and fiber type proportion, diameter, and grouping were assessed by computerized image analysis. At 8 mo, the local delivery of NT-3 resulted in significant improvement in gastrocnemius muscle weight compared with controls (NT-3 group 47%, controls 39% weight of contralateral normal muscle; P < 0.05). NT-3 delivery resulted in a significant increase in the proportion (NT-3 43.3%, controls 35.7%; P < 0.05) and diameter (NT-3 87.8 micron, controls 70.8 micron; P < 0.05) of fast type 2b fibers after reinnervation. This effect was specific to type 2b fibers; no normalization was seen in other fiber types. This study indicates that NT-3-enhanced axonal regeneration has a beneficial effect on the motor target organ. Also, NT-3 may be specifically affecting a subset of motoneurons that determine type 2b muscle fiber phenotype. As NT-3 was topically applied to cut nerves, our data suggest a discriminating effect of the neurotrophin on neuro-muscular interaction. These results would imply that muscle fibers may be differentially responsive to other neurotrophic factors and indicate the potential clinical role of NT-3 in the prevention of muscle atrophy after nerve injury.

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