Single injection of a novel nerve growth factor coacervate improves structural and functional regeneration after sciatic nerve injury in adult rats

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The prototypical neurotrophin, nerve growth factor (NGF), plays an important role in the development and maintenance of many neurons in both the central and peripheral nervous systems, and can promote functional recovery after peripheral nerve injury in adulthood. However, repair of peripheral nerve defects is hampered by the short half-life of NGF in vivo, and treatment with either NGF alone or NGF contained in synthetic nerve conduits is inferior to the use of nerve autografts, the current gold standard. We tested the reparative ability of a single local injection of a polyvalent coacervate containing polycation-poly(ethylene argininylaspartate diglyceride; PEAD), heparin, and NGF, in adult rats following sciatic nerve crush injury, using molecular, histological and behavioral approaches. In vitro assays demonstrated that NGF was loaded into the coacervate at nearly 100% efficiency, and was protected from proteolytic degradation. In vivo, the coacervate enhanced NGF bioavailability, leading to a notable improvement in motor function (track walking analysis) after 30 days. The NGF coacervate treatment was also associated with better weight gain and reduction in atrophy of the gastrocnemius muscle. Furthermore, light and electron microscopy showed that the number of myelinated axons and axon-to-fiber ratio (G-ratio) were significantly higher in NGF coacervate-treated rats compared with control groups. Expression of markers of neural tissue regeneration (MAP-2, S-100β, MBP and GAP-43), as well as proliferating Schwann cells and myelin-axon relationships (GFAP and NF200), were also increased. These observations suggest that even a single administration of NGF coacervate could have therapeutic value for peripheral nerve regeneration and functional recovery.

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