[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: To cope with the limitations faced by autograft acquisitions particularly for multiple nerve injuries, artificial nerve conduit has been introduced by researchers as a substitute for autologous nerve graft for the easy specification and availability for mass production. In order to best mimic the structures and components of autologous nerve, great efforts have been made to improve the designation of nerve conduits either from materials or fabrication techniques. Electrospinning is an easy and versatile technique that has recently been used to fabricate fibrous tissue-engineered scaffolds which have great similarity to the extracellular matrix on fiber structure.
In this study we fabricated a collagen/poly(ε-caprolactone) (collagen/PCL) fibrous scaffold by electrospinning and explored its application as nerve guide substrate or conduit in vitro and in vivo. Material characterizations showed this electrospun composite material which was made of submicron fibers possessed good hydrophilicity and flexibility. In vitro study indicated electrospun collagen/PCL fibrous meshes promoted Schwann cell adhesion, elongation and proliferation. In vivo test showed electrospun collagen/PCL porous nerve conduits successfully supported nerve regeneration through an 8 mm sciatic nerve gap in adult rats, achieving similar electrophysiological and muscle reinnervation results as autografts. Although regenerated nerve fibers were still in a pre-mature stage 4 months postoperatively, the implanted collagen/PCL nerve conduits facilitated more axons regenerating through the conduit lumen and gradually degraded which well matched the nerve regeneration rate.
All the results demonstrated this collagen/PCL nerve conduit with tailored degradation rate fabricated by electrospinning could be an efficient alternative to autograft for peripheral nerve regeneration research. Due to its advantage of high surface area for cell attachment, it is believed that this electrospun nerve conduit could find more application in cell therapy for nerve regeneration in future, to further improve functional regeneration outcome especially for longer nerve defect restoration.