Background: The purpose of this study was to assess the efficacy of biodegradable, electrospun poly(ϵ-caprolactone) nanofiber nerve conduits in improving nerve regeneration. Methods: The authors used a rat forelimb chronic denervation model to assess the effects of poly(ϵ-caprolactone) conduits on improving nerve regeneration and upper extremity function. Three groups of rats were examined: (1) negative-control animals (n = 5), which underwent 8 weeks of median nerve chronic denervation injury followed by repair with no conduit; (2) experimental animals (n = 5), which underwent 8 weeks of median nerve chronic denervation followed by repair and poly(ϵ-caprolactone) nerve conduit wrapping of the nerve coaptation site; and (3) positive-control animals (n = 5), which were naive controls. All animals underwent compound muscle action potential and functional testing. At 14 weeks after repair, the median nerve and flexor muscles were harvested for histologic analysis. Results: Histomorphometric analysis of regenerating median nerves demonstrated augmented axonal regeneration in experimental versus negative control animals (total axon count, 1769 ± 672 versus 1072 ± 123.80; p = 0.0468). With regard to functional recovery, experimental and negative-control animals (1.67 ± 0.04 versus 0.97 ± 0.39; p = 0.036) had regained 34.9 percent and 25.4 percent, respectively, of baseline hand grip strength at 14 weeks after repair. Lastly, less collagen deposition at the nerve coaptation site of experimental animals was found when compared to control animals (p < 0.05). Conclusion: Biodegradable, poly(ϵ-caprolactone) nanofiber nerve conduits can improve nerve regeneration and subsequent physiologic extremity function in the setting of delayed nerve repair by decreasing the scar burden at nerve coaptation sites.
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