Bridging peripheral nerve defects with a tissue engineered nerve graft composed of an in vitro cultured nerve equivalent and a silk fibroin-based scaffold
Tissue engineered nerve grafts are considered as a promising alternative to autologous nerve grafts used for peripheral nerve repair. The differences between these two types of nerve grafts are mainly in the regenerative microenvironment established by them. To construct ideal tissue engineered nerve grafts, it is therefore required to develop a better way to introduce biochemical cues into a neural scaffold, as compared to single or combined use of support cells and growth factors. Here, we used a co-culture system of dorsal root ganglia and Schwann cells to create an in vitro formed nerve equivalent, which was introduced into a silk fibroin-based scaffold to furnish a tissue engineered nerve graft (TENG). At 4- and 12- weeks after the TENG was implanted to bridge a 10-mm-long sciatic nerve defect in rats, histological and functional assessments as well as Western blot analysis were performed to evaluate the influences of the TENG on peripheral nerve regeneration. We found that at an early stage of nerve regeneration, the TENG significantly accelerated axonal growth, and up-regulated expressions of N-cadherin and PMP22. Twelve weeks after nerve grafting, the TENG produced a further improved outcome of nerve regeneration and functional recovery, which was more close to that of the autologous nerve graft than that of the silk fibroin-based scaffold. The introduction of an in vitro cultured nerve equivalent into a scaffold might contribute to establishing a native-like microenvironment for nerve regeneration.
Journal: Biomaterials - Volume 33, Issue 15, May 2012, Pages 3860–3867