Accelerating axon growth to overcome limitations in functional recovery after peripheral nerve injury

Tessa Gordon, K. Ming Chan, Olawale A.R. Sulaiman, Esther Udina, Nasim Amirjani, Thomas M. Brushart

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Injured peripheral nerves regenerate at very slow rates. Therefore, proximal injury sites such as the brachial plexus still present major challenges, and the outcomes of conventional treatments remain poor. This is in part attributable to a progressive decline in the Schwann cells' ability to provide a supportive milieu for the growth cone to extend and to find the appropriate target. These challenges are compounded by the often considerable delay of regeneration across the site of nerve laceration. Recently, low-frequency electrical stimulation (as brief as an hour) has shown promise, as it significantly accelerated regeneration in animal models through speeding of axon growth across the injury site. METHODS: To test whether this might be a useful clinical tool, we carried out a randomized controlled trial in patients who had experienced substantial axonal loss in the median nerve owing to severe compression in the carpal tunnel. To further elucidate the potential mechanisms, we applied rolipram, a cyclic adenosine monophosphate agonist, to rats after axotomy of the femoral nerve. RESULTS: We demonstrated that effects similar to those observed in animal studies could also be attained in humans. The mechanisms of action of electrical stimulation likely operate through up-regulation of neurotrophic factors and cyclic adenosine monophosphate. Indeed, the application of rolipram significantly accelerated nerve regeneration. CONCLUSION: With new mechanistic insights into the influencing factors of peripheral nerve regeneration, the novel treatments described above could form part of an armament of synergistic therapies that could make a meaningful difference to patients with peripheral nerve injuries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)A132-A144
Issue numberSUPPL. 4
StatePublished - 2009


  • Accelerated axon regeneration
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Cyclic adenosine monophosphate and axon regeneration
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Peripheral nerve injury
  • Quantitative outcomes of nerve surgery
  • Schwann cell denervation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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