Autonomic nerve fibers aberrantly reinnervate denervated facial muscles and alter muscle fiber population

Vlad Tereshenko, Dominik C Dotzauer, Matthias Luft, Joachim Ortmayr, Udo Maierhofer, Martin Schmoll, Christopher Festin, Genova Carrero Rojas, Johanna Klepetko, Gregor Laengle, Olga Politikou, Dario Farina, Roland Blumer, Konstantin D Bergmeister, Oskar C Aszmann

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

4 Citations (Scopus)


The surgical redirection of efferent neural input to a denervated muscle via a nerve transfer can reestablish neuromuscular control after nerve injuries. The role of autonomic nerve fibers during the process of muscular reinnervation remains largely unknown. Here, we investigated the neurobiological mechanisms behind the spontaneous functional recovery of denervated facial muscles in male rodents. Recovered facial muscles demonstrated an abundance of cholinergic axonal endings establishing functional neuromuscular junctions. The parasympathetic source of the neuronal input was confirmed to be in the pterygopalatine ganglion. Furthermore, the autonomically reinnervated facial muscles underwent a muscle fiber change to a purely intermediate muscle fiber population (MHCIIa). Finally, electrophysiological tests revealed that the postganglionic parasympathetic fibers travel to the facial muscles via the sensory infraorbital nerve. Our findings demonstrated expanded neuromuscular plasticity of denervated striated muscles enabling functional recovery via alien autonomic fibers. These findings may further explain the underlying mechanisms of sensory protection implemented to prevent atrophy of a denervated muscle.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT:Nerve injuries represent significant morbidity and disability for patients. Rewiring motor nerve fibers to other target muscles have shown to be a successful approach in the restoration of motor function. This demonstrates the remarkable capacity of the central nervous system to adapt to the needs of the neuromuscular system. Yet, the capability of skeletal muscles being reinnervated by non-motor axons remains largely unknown. Here, we show that under deprivation of original efferent input, the neuromuscular system can undergo functional and morphological remodeling via autonomic nerve fibers. This may explain neurobiological mechanisms of the sensory protection phenomenon, which is due to parasympathetic reinnervation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8297-8307
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number44
Early online date10 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 02 Nov 2022


  • autonomic nervous system
  • facial muscles
  • facial nerve
  • muscle fiber types
  • parasympathetic reinnervation
  • sensory protection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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