PURPOSE: Functional recovery after peripheral nerve injury is predominantly influenced by time to reinnervation and number of regenerated motor axons. For nerve injuries in which incomplete regeneration is anticipated, a reverse end-to-side (RETS) nerve transfer might be useful to augment the regenerating nerve with additional axons and to more quickly reinnervate target muscle. This study evaluates the ability of peripheral nerve axons to regenerate across an RETS nerve transfer. We present a case report demonstrating its potential clinical applicability.
METHODS: Thirty-six Lewis rats were randomized into 3 groups. In group 1 (negative control), the tibial nerve was transected and prevented from regenerating. In group 2 (positive control), the tibial and peroneal nerves were transected, and an end-to-end (ETE) nerve transfer was performed. In group 3 (experimental model), the tibial nerve and peroneal nerves were transected, and an RETS nerve transfer was performed between the proximal end of the peroneal nerve and the side of the denervated distal tibial stump. Nerve histomorphometry and perfused muscle mass were evaluated. Six Thy1-GFP transgenic Sprague Dawley rats, expressing green fluorescent protein in their neural tissues, also had the RETS procedure for evaluation with confocal microscopy.
RESULTS: Nerve histomorphometry showed little to no regeneration in chronic denervation animals but statistically similar regeneration in ETE and RETS animals at 5 and 10 weeks. Muscle mass preservation was similar between ETE and RETS groups by 10 weeks and significantly better than negative controls at both time points. Nerve regeneration was robust across the RETS coaptation of Thy1-GFP rats by 5 weeks.
CONCLUSIONS: Axonal regeneration occurs across an RETS coaptation. An RETS nerve transfer might augment motor recovery when less-than-optimal recovery is otherwise anticipated.