Reconstructive transplantation such as extremity and face transplantation is a viable treatment option for select patients with devastating tissue loss. Sensorimotor recovery is a critical determinant of overall success of such transplants. Although motor function recovery has been extensively studied, mechanisms of sensory re-innervation are not well established. Recent clinical reports of face transplants confirm progressive sensory improvement even in cases where optimal repair of sensory nerves was not achieved. Two forms of sensory nerve regeneration are known. In regenerative sprouting, axonal outgrowth occurs from the transected nerve stump while in collateral sprouting, reinnervation of denervated tissue occurs through growth of uninjured axons into the denervated tissue. The latter mechanism may be more important in settings where transected sensory nerves cannot be re-apposed. In this study, denervated osteomyocutaneous alloflaps (hind- limb transplants) from Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC)-defined MGH miniature swine were performed to specifically evaluate collateral axonal sprouting for cutaneous sensory re-innervation. The skin component of the flap was externalized and serial skin sections extending from native skin to the grafted flap were biopsied. In order to visualize regenerating axonal structures in the dermis and epidermis, 50um frozen sections were immunostained against axonal and Schwann cell markers. In all alloflaps, collateral axonal sprouts from adjacent recipient skin extended into the denervated skin component along the dermal-epidermal junction from the periphery towards the center. On day 100 post-transplant, regenerating sprouts reached 0.5 cm into the flap centripetally. Eight months following transplant, epidermal fibers were visualized 1.5 cm from the margin (rate of regeneration 0.06 mm per day). All animals had pinprick sensation in the periphery of the transplanted skin within 3 months post-transplant. Restoration of sensory input through collateral axonal sprouting can revive interaction with the environment; restore defense mechanisms and aid in cortical re-integration of vascularized composite allografts.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)