The study of muscle reinnervation has been difficult because of lack of an accurate, reproducible method to monitor return of function. Visual assessment relies on subjective interpretation. Histology provides anatomic, not functional, information. Electromyography and anatomic tracing have been most effective in evaluating physiologic return of muscle function. It has been difficult to assess the timing of functional return electromyographically because measurements are intermittent and electrode placement varies. A method was designed to allow long-term monitoring of electromyographic (EMG) activity in the facial musculature of the rabbit. Sixteen rabbits were monitored for at least 1 month or until return of normal EMG activity was identified. Various levels of injury (nerve crush, transection without repair, and transection with immediate end-to-end anastomosis) were evaluated. EMG evidence of reinnervation was seen in all animals with nerve crush injuries as well as those with anastomoses. Physiologic continuity of the nerves was then evaluated by retrograde transport of horseradish peroxidase. All muscles showing return of EMG activity had uptake of HRP into the appropriate brain stem motor neurons. The denervated muscles showed no HRP uptake. The information gained in this study shows potential for use of this technique in comparing functional return of muscle activity between different reinnervation methods.
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