Experimental nerve transfer model in the neonatal rat

Matthias E Sporer, Martin Aman, Konstantin D Bergmeister, Dieter Depisch, Katharina M Scheuba, Ewald Unger, Bruno K Podesser, Oskar C Aszmann

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

2 Citations (Scopus)


Clinically, peripheral nerve reconstructions in neonates are most frequently applied in brachial plexus birth injuries. Most surgical concepts, however, have investigated nerve reconstructions in adult animal models. The immature neuromuscular system reacts differently to the effects of nerve lesion and surgery and is poorly investigated due to the lack of reliable experimental models. Here, we describe an experimental forelimb model in the neonatal rat, to study these effects on both the peripheral and central nervous systems. Within 24 hours after birth, three groups were prepared: In the nerve transfer group, a lesion of the musculocutaneous nerve was reconstructed by selectively transferring the ulnar nerve. In the negative control group, the musculocutaneous nerve was divided and not reconstructed and in the positive control group, a sham surgery was performed. The animal´s ability to adapt to nerve lesions and progressive improvement over time were depict by the Bertelli test, which observes the development of grooming. Twelve weeks postoperatively, animals were fully matured and the nerve transfer successfully reinnervated their target muscles, which was indicated by muscle force, muscle weight, and cross sectional area evaluation. On the contrary, no spontaneous regeneration was found in the negative control group. In the positive control group, reference values were established. Retrograde labeling indicated that the motoneuron pool of the ulnar nerve was reduced following nerve transfer. Due to this post-axotomy motoneuron death, a diminished amount of motoneurons reinnervated the biceps muscle in the nerve transfer group, when compared to the native motoneuron pool of the musculocutaneous nerve. These findings indicate that the immature neuromuscular system behaves profoundly different than similar lesions in adult rats and explains reduced muscle force. Ultimately, pathophysiologic adaptations are inevitable. The maturing neuromuscular system, however, utilizes neonatal capacity of regeneration and seizes a variety of compensation mechanism to restore a functional extremity. The above described neonatal rat model demonstrates a constant anatomy, suitable for nerve transfers and allows all standard neuromuscular analyses. Hence, detailed investigations on the pathophysiological changes and subsequent effects of trauma on the various levels within the neuromuscular system as well as neural reorganization of the neonatal rat may be elucidated. This study was approved by the Ethics Committee of the Medical University of Vienna and the Austrian Ministry for Research and Science (BMWF-66.009/0187-WF/V/3b/2015) on March 20, 2015.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1088-1095
Number of pages8
JournalNeural Regeneration Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • brachial plexus birth injury
  • experimental rat model
  • extremity reconstruction
  • methodological paper
  • neonatal rat
  • nerve reconstruction
  • nerve regeneration
  • nerve transfer
  • neural plasticity
  • peripheral nerve surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience


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