BACKGROUND: The rat model has had limited utility for the study of long nerve gaps because of the small size of the animal. The authors sought to develop a simple, effective rat model for reconstruction of long nerve gap defects. METHODS: Fifteen rats had a sciatic nerve transection followed by reconstruction. Positive control rats received a 1-cm isograft. Negative control rats received a 3.5-cm hollow silicone conduit, and experimental rats received a 4-cm isograft; these were implanted in a looped configuration to accommodate the long length. Nerves were harvested at 6 weeks (1-cm grafts) and 12 weeks (3.5-cm conduits and 4-cm grafts) for histologic and histomorphometric evaluation. RESULTS: The 1-cm and 4-cm isograft groups showed robust regeneration in the distal nerve segment. The 3.5-cm hollow conduits showed absolutely no initiation of nerve regeneration. Histomorphometric values were as expected for the specified gap length. CONCLUSIONS: This study describes a simple and effective long nerve gap rat model for experiments on nerve grafts and nerve conduits. The long nerve graft model can be useful for studying techniques such as processed nerve grafts, which are currently a topic of frequent investigation. The 3.5-cm hollow conduit "no-regrowth" long-gap model is ideal for investigating conduit-based tissue-engineering solutions for long-gap nerve repair. The authors' approach overcomes the size limitation of the small animal while exploiting the features that make the rat the model of choice for preliminary nerve studies.
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