Regrowth of axons within Schwann cell-filled polycarbonate tubes implanted into the damaged optic tract and cerebral cortex of rats

Alan Harvey, M. Chen, G.W. Plant, Susan Dyson

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The efficacy of Schwann cell-filled polycarbonate tubes as a bridging substrate for regrowing axons following lesions of the rat optic tract or cerebral cortex has been assessed after short (11-31 days) or long (82-119 days) survival times. Tubes were impregnated with laminin and poly-l-lysine, soaked in basic FGF and filled with Schwann cells. They were implanted into optic tract lesions in 34 rats aged 15-21 days and into cortical lesion cavities in 3 adult rats. Gelfoam soaked in basic FGF and Schwann cell conditioned medium was placed over the tubes. In one group of rats, axon regrowth into implants was assessed using neurofilament antibody RT97; antibodies to proteolipid protein, P-o, laminin, the low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor (NGFr), S-100 and ED1 were also used to study myelination and the cellular content of the tubes. In a second group of rats, anterograde tracing techniques were used to specifically identify host retinal axons within the implanted polymers. After long survival times, the relationships between regrown axons and cells inside the tubes were also examined ultrastructurally. In all implants examined immunohistochemically at short survival times, large numbers of RT97(+) axons were found throughout the tubes, usually in association with laminin(+), NGFr(+) Schwann cells. At longer survival times, viable Schwann cells were still present, but tubes contained fewer axons and less cellular material. This material often formed a cord (200-250 mu m thick) which extended the length of the implant. In the second group of rats, labelled retinal axons were found in 11 of the 16 implants that were attached to the dLGN. Axons regrew up to 1 mm but did not reach the distal (tectal) end of the implants. Interestingly, there was no evidence of myelinogenesis by either implanted Schwann cells or by host-derived oligodendroglia which had migrated into the tubes. Oligodendroglia were usually encircled by processes, many of which originated from Schwann cells, suggesting that the grafted cells may have been involved in isolating the central glia. The data show that Schwann cell-filled polycarbonate tubes provided a favourable milieu for axonal regeneration in the short term; however over time there was a decrease in the cellular and fibre content of the tubes. After intracranial implantation, an additional supporting matrix inside the polycarbonate tubes may aid in providing an environment conducive to the long term maintenance of regenerated retinal and other axons.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-239
JournalRestorative Neurology and Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 1994


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