Transplantation of Schwann cells in a collagen tube for the repair of large segmental peripheral nerve defects in rats Laboratory investigation

Yerko A. Berrocal, Vania W. Almeida, Ranjan Gupta, Allan D. Levi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Object. Segmental nerve defects pose a daunting clinical challenge, as peripheral nerve injury studies have established that there is a critical nerve gap length for which the distance cannot be successfully bridged with current techniques. Construction of a neural prosthesis filled with Schwann cells (SCs) could provide an alternative treatment to successfully repair these long segmental gaps in the peripheral nervous system. The object of this study was to evaluate the ability of autologous SCs to increase the length at which segmental nerve defects can be bridged using a collagen tube. Methods. The authors studied the use of absorbable collagen conduits in combination with autologous SCs (200,000 cells/ml) to promote axonal growth across a critical size defect (13 mm) in the sciatic nerve of male Fischer rats. Control groups were treated with serum only-filled conduits of reversed sciatic nerve autografts. Animals were assessed for survival of the transplanted SCs as well as the quantity of myelinated axons in the proximal, middle, and distal portions of the channel. Results. Schwann cell survival was confirmed at 4 and 16 weeks postsurgery by the presence of prelabeled green fluorescent protein-positive SCs within the regenerated cable. The addition of SCs to the nerve guide significantly enhanced the regeneration of myelinated axons from the nerve stump into the proximal (p < 0.001) and middle points (p < 0.01) of the tube at 4 weeks. The regeneration of myelinated axons at 16 weeks was significantly enhanced throughout the entire length of the nerve guide (p < 0.001) as compared with their number in a serum-only filled tube and was similar in number compared with the reversed autograft. Autotomy scores were significantly lower in the animals whose sciatic nerve was repaired with a collagen conduit either without (p < 0.01) or with SCs (p < 0.001) when compared with a reversed autograft. Conclusions. The technique of adding SCs to a guidance channel significantly enhanced the gap distance that can be repaired after peripheral nerve injury with long segmental defects and holds promise in humans. Most importantly, this study represents some of the first essential steps in bringing autologous SC-based therapies to the domain of peripheral nerve injuries with long segmental defects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)720-732
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Guidance channel
  • Nerve injury
  • Peripheral nerve
  • Schwann cell
  • Transplantation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery


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