Cross-face nerve grafting yields inconsistent neural regeneration, and methods that promote more robust axonal traversing of the graft would expand the indications for this procedure.Objective
To test the hypothesis that hooking a cross-face nerve graft distally to a source of denervated muscle, rather than leaving it in the subcutaneous space, would positively affect neural ingrowth across the graft, based on elaboration of neurotrophins from the musculature.Methods
Twenty-four rats underwent cross-face nerve grafting in which the right facial nerve buccal branch was transected and coapted to the graft. The graft was placed across the neck and into the left side of the face. The distal end of the graft was placed either in the left subcutaneous space, coapted to the marginal mandibular branch of the left facial nerve, or coapted to the distal stump of the transected left hypoglossal nerve. Eight control animals underwent right buccal branch transection and placement of a cross-face nerve graft without any proximal and distal hookup. After 12 weeks, all experimental groups underwent hookup of the distal nerve graft to the left facial nerve buccal branch. Vibrissal function was assessed during the ensuing 12 weeks, and then the graft was harvested for histomorphometric analysis.Results
After 12 weeks, there was a significant difference in axon counts between the group coapted distally to the tongue (hypoglossal hookup) and that coapted to the facial musculature (marginal hookup). Twelve weeks later, after distal cross-face nerve graft hookup, this difference was not statistically significant, although the hypoglossally baited group demonstrated statistically significantly greater fiber maturity. Recovery of vibrissal movement did not differ among treatment groups.Conclusion
Baiting the cross-face nerve graft via temporary hookup to the distal hypoglossal nerve and tongue musculature appears to improve nerve ingrowth through a nerve graft across the face, although a corresponding improvement in facial muscle function was not observed.