This study investigates the efficacy of systemic growth hormone (GH) therapy in ameliorating the deleterious effects of chronic denervation (CD) injury on nerve regeneration and resulting motor function. Using a forelimb CD model, 4 groups of Lewis rats were examined (n = 8 per group): Group-1 (negative control) 8 weeks of median nerve CD followed by ulnar-to-median nerve transfer; Group-2 (experimental) 8 weeks of median nerve CD followed by ulnar-to-median nerve transfer and highly purified lyophilized pituitary porcine GH treatment (0.6 mg/day); Group-3 (positive control) immediate ulnar-to-median nerve transfer without CD; Group-4 (baseline) naïve controls. All animals underwent weekly grip strength testing and were sacrificed 14 weeks following nerve transfer for histomorphometric analysis of median nerve regeneration, flexor digitorum superficialis atrophy, and neuromuscular junction reinnervation. In comparison to untreated controls, GH-treated animals demonstrated enhanced median nerve regeneration as measured by axon density (p < 0.005), axon diameter (p < 0.0001), and myelin thickness (p < 0.0001); improved muscle re-innervation (27.9% vs 38.0% NMJs re-innervated; p < 0.02); reduced muscle atrophy (1146 ± 93.19 µm 2 vs 865.2 ± 48.33 µm 2 ; p < 0.02); and greater recovery of motor function (grip strength: p < 0.001). These findings support the hypothesis that GH-therapy enhances axonal regeneration and maintains chronically-denervated muscle to thereby promote motor re-innervation and functional recovery.
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