Despite the fact that the peripheral nervous system is able to regenerate after traumatic injury, the functional outcomes following damage are limited and poor. Bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent cells that have been used in studies of peripheral nerve regeneration and have yielded promising results. The aim of this study was to evaluate sciatic nerve regeneration and neuronal survival in mice after nerve transection followed by MSC treatment into a polycaprolactone (PCL) nerve guide. The left sciatic nerve of C57BL/6 mice was transected and the nerve stumps were placed into a biodegradable PCL tube leaving a 3-mm gap between them; the tube was filled with MSCs obtained from GFP+ animals (MSC-treated group) or with a culture medium (Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium group). Motor function was analyzed according to the sciatic functional index (SFI). After 6 weeks, animals were euthanized, and the regenerated sciatic nerve, the dorsal root ganglion (DRG), the spinal cord, and the gastrocnemius muscle were collected and processed for light and electron microscopy. A quantitative analysis of regenerated nerves showed a significant increase in the number of myelinated fibers in the group that received, within the nerve guide, stem cells. The number of neurons in the DRG was significantly higher in the MSC-treated group, while there was no difference in the number of motor neurons in the spinal cord. We also found higher values of trophic factors expression in MSC-treated groups, especially a nerve growth factor. The SFI revealed a significant improvement in the MSC-treated group. The gastrocnemius muscle showed an increase in weight and in the levels of creatine phosphokinase enzyme, suggesting an improvement of reinnervation and activity in animals that received MSCs. Immunohistochemistry documented that some GFP+ -transplanted cells assumed a Schwann-cell-like phenotype, as evidenced by their expression of the S-100 protein, a Schwann cell marker. Our findings suggest that using a PCL tube filled with MSCs is a good strategy to improve nerve regeneration after a nerve transection in mice.
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