Severe nerve injury with segmental loss requires nerve graft or conduit repair. We compared 2 synthetic, bioabsorbable nerve conduits with the gold standard of autogenous nerve grafting using histopathologic and neurophysiologic analyses.

A 10-mm segment of the sciatic nerve of 45 Sprague-Dawley rats was resected, leaving a gap defect. Three experimental groups were used: 15 coaptations using type I collagen nerve conduits, 15 coaptations using polyglycolic acid (PGA) nerve conduits, and 15 coaptations using the excised segments as autogenous nerve grafts. The contralateral legs were used as unoperated controls. After 15 weeks, nerve regeneration was evaluated by measuring isometric muscle contraction force, axonal counting, wet muscle weights, and histology.

Statistically significant differences in the isometric muscle contraction force, axonal counts, and wet muscle weights were found between type I collagen conduit and nerve graft compared to the PGA conduit. Axonal sprouting was less organized and less dense with the PGA conduits when compared to nerve reconstruction with the type I collagen conduits and nerve grafts.

Type I collagen conduits and autografts produced comparable results, which were significantly better than PGA conduits. The use of type I collagen conduit is a reliable alternative to nerve grafting for gaps up to 10 mm in length.

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