The purpose of this study is to promote nerve regeneration across a peripheral nerve gap, using a biologic, tissue-engineered nerve (TEN), containing a high density of viable Schwann cells (SCs) in the absence of supportive foreign materials and a tubular system. Isolated SCs from adult rat sciatic nerve were seeded onto biodegradable constructs and implanted into the backs of nude mice to create TENs. Six weeks later, the constructs were harvested, implanted into surgically created sciatic nerve gaps in rats without supportive artificial conduits and compared with both an autograft group and a silicone conduit group using SCs. Two months later, functional assessment was evaluated by walking track analysis and the implanted lesions were imaged by transmission electron microscopy. The axonal number and sciatic function index of the TEN were significantly higher than those of the silicone group and achieved a comparable level to the autograft group. The results indicate that the large number of SCs within their own extracellular matrix appeared sufficient to enable neuronal growth across a nerve gap in the absence of an artificial conduit and that these circumstances may have a positive effect on the supplement of growth factors from the surrounding tissues of implanted TEN.
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