This experiment quantitatively compared the human equivalent of a nerve repair following surgical division in the fetal, adult, and early childhood period of development using a rabbit as an experimental animal model. Twelve time-dated pregnant New Zealand White rabbits at 24 days' gestation (term = 31 days) underwent hysterotomy; one hind limb was delivered through the uterine opening. The sciatic nerve was divided and repaired by primary neurorrhaphy using two 11-0 epineural sutures Sciatic nerve repair was also performed in 10 neonatal and 10 adult New Zealand White rabbits. Following repair, each group was assessed using electromyography examination, measuring distal motor latency and amplitude at 1, 2, 3, and 4 months postrepair. There was no difference in any of the groups in distal motor latency. The amplitude rose incrementally in all groups, and the fetal group had significantly higher amplitudes (p < 0.02) at 1, 2, 3, and 4 months in comparison with the adult group. There was no statistically significant difference between fetal and neonatal nerve repairs at any of the time periods. At the completion of the study, the nerve repair sites were harVested for histologic estimation of mean myelinated fiber density and fiber diameter distribution distal and proximal to the repair site. A greater percentage of myelinated axons crossed the repair site in the fetal group (83 percent) in comparison with the adult group (63 percent) (p < 0.03). Our study also demonstrated significant increases in the number of larger myelinated fibers crossing the repair site in comparison with the neonatal and adult groups (p < 0.04). This study found that fetal nerve healing following surgical repair is superior to that found in adult animals and results in a higher number of larger myelinated fibers crossing the repair site in comparison with adult and neonatal repairs.
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