Research ArticleNEUROSCIENCE

Peripheral nerve transfers change target muscle structure and function

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Science Advances  02 Jan 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 1, eaau2956
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau2956


Selective nerve transfers surgically rewire motor neurons and are used in extremity reconstruction to restore muscle function or to facilitate intuitive prosthetic control. We investigated the neurophysiological effects of rewiring motor axons originating from spinal motor neuron pools into target muscles with lower innervation ratio in a rat model. Following reinnervation, the target muscle’s force regenerated almost completely, with the motor unit population increasing to 116% in functional and 172% in histological assessments with subsequently smaller muscle units. Muscle fiber type populations transformed into the donor nerve’s original muscles. We thus demonstrate that axons of alternative spinal origin can hyper-reinnervate target muscles without loss of muscle force regeneration, but with a donor-specific shift in muscle fiber type. These results explain the excellent clinical outcomes following nerve transfers in neuromuscular reconstruction. They indicate that reinnervated muscles can provide an accurate bioscreen to display neural information of lost body parts for high-fidelity prosthetic control.

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