Visualizing peripheral nerve regeneration by whole mount staining.
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Peripheral nerve trauma triggers a well characterised sequence of events both proximal and distal to the site of injury. Axons distal to the injury degenerate, Schwann cells convert to a repair supportive phenotype and macrophages enter the nerve to clear myelin and axonal debris. Following these events, axons must regrow through the distal part of the nerve, re-innervate and finally are re-myelinated by Schwann cells. For nerve crush injuries (axonotmesis), in which the integrity of the nerve is maintained, repair may be relatively effective whereas for nerve transection (neurotmesis) repair will likely be very poor as few axons may be able to cross between the two parts of the severed nerve, across the newly generated nerve bridge, to enter the distal stump and regenerate. Analysing axon growth and the cell-cell interactions that occur following both nerve crush and cut injuries has largely been carried out by staining sections of nerve tissue, but this has the obvious disadvantage that it is not possible to follow the paths of regenerating axons in three dimensions within the nerve trunk or nerve bridge. To try and solve this problem, we describe the development and use of a novel whole mount staining protocol that allows the analysis of axonal regeneration, Schwann cell-axon interaction and re-vascularisation of the repairing nerve following nerve cut and crush injuries.
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