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Biomaterials. 1998 Aug;19(15):1393-403.

Early peripheral nerve healing in collagen and silicone tube implants: myofibroblasts and the cellular response.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139, USA.


Injuries to peripheral nerves innervating a limb cause paralysis, and can necessitate amputation. The inability of the nerves to regenerate spontaneously and the limitations of autograft procedures led to the development of treatments involving insertion of the nerve ends into prosthetic tubular devices. Previous work showed that 'entubulation' of the nerve ends in a silicone tube containing a specific porous, resorbable collagen-GAG (CG) copolymer, serving as an analog of extracellular matrix, improved regeneration compared to an empty silicone tube. However, long-term treatment with silicone tubes produced constriction that caused partial degradation of the regenerated axons; for this and other reasons, implementation of a nondegradable tube may require a second surgical procedure for removal. In this study the silicone tube was replaced with porous and non-porous collagen tubes in order to produce fully degradable devices. CG-filled collagen tubes and controls (CG-filled silicone tubes and empty collagen and silicone tubes) were implanted in a 10-mm gap in the rat sciatic nerve, with three rats in each group. The regeneration was evaluated after six weeks using light microscope images of cross sections of the nerve that were digitized and analyzed. Histograms of the diameters of the axons were generated and compared. The cellular response to the implanted biomaterials was assessed histologically, and immunohistochemistry was performed using an antibody to alpha-smooth muscle actin in order to determine the presence of myofibroblasts (contractile cells). Axonal regrowth was comparable in porous collagen, non-porous collagen, and silicone tubes filled with a CG matrix. These results support the implementation of a degradable collagen tube in place of a silicone device. Confirming earlier work, regeneration through the silicone and collagen tubes was enhanced by the CG copolymer, compared to empty tubes. A notable finding was a continuous layer of myofibroblasts on the surfaces of all of the six silicone tube prostheses, but on the inner surface of only one of six collagen tubes (Fisher's exact tests; P < 0.01). This is the first report of contractile capsules around silicone tubes, and supports the use of degradable collagen tubes in peripheral nerve regeneration. Macrophages were found bordering both the silicone and collagen tubes, and in the case of the collagen tubes, appeared to be participating in the regulation of the tubes.

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