Background: Long-gap peripheral nerve defects arising from tumor, trauma, or birth-related injuries requiring nerve reconstruction are currently treated using nerve autografts and nerve allografts. Autografts are associated with limited supply and donor-site morbidity. Allografts require administration of transient immunosuppressants, which has substantial associated risks. To overcome these limitations, we investigated the use of detergent-free decellularized nerve grafts to reconstruct long-gap nerve defects in a rodent model and compared it with existing detergent processing techniques. Methods: Nerve grafts were harvested from the sciatic nerves of 9 donor rats. Twenty-four recipient rats were divided into 4 groups (6 animals per group): (1) nerve grafts (NG, positive control), (2) detergent-free decellularized (DFD) grafts, (3) detergent decellularized grafts, and (4) silicone tube conduits (negative control). Each recipient rat had a 3.5-cm graft or conduit sutured across a sciatic nerve transection injury. All animals were harvested at 12 weeks postimplantation for functional muscle analysis and nerve histomorphometry. Results: Histomorphometry results indicated maximum growth in NG when compared with other groups. DFD and detergent decellularized groups showed comparable regeneration at 12 weeks. Silicone tube group showed no regeneration as expected. Muscle force data indicated functional recovery in NG and DFD groups only. Conclusions: This study describes a detergent-free nerve decellularization technique for reconstruction of long-gap nerve injuries. We compared DFD grafts with an established detergent processing technique and found that DFD nerve grafts are successful in promoting regeneration across longgap peripheral nerve defects as an alternative to existing strategies.
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