Low-dose radiation has been used in clinical and experimental models for the prevention of scarring and for fracture healing. There is evidence that low-dose radiation improves the hormesis of various cell types but little is known about its effects on peripheral nerve tissue. In this study, we investigated the beneficial effects of low-dose radiation on the regeneration of transectional peripheral nerve injury in an experimental rat model. Seventy-two male Sprague-Dawley rats received transection injury to the left sciatic nerves, and the nerves were subsequently sutured by epineurium end-to-end anastomosis to restore continuity. Animals were randomly assigned to one of two treatment groups (n = 36/group): 1 Gy X-ray irradiation or control (sham irradiation). Gait analysis, electrophysiological examination and morphological investigations were performed. In addition, Western blot and qRT-PCR were performed to determine the level of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and growth-associated protein-43 (GAP-43). Content of VEGF and GAP-43 in the regenerated sciatic nerve of the irradiated group was higher than the control group. At 4 to 12 weeks after surgery, the irradiated animals exhibited a significantly improved functional recovery relative to controls. At 12 weeks after surgery, amplitude and conduction velocity of the irradiated group were higher than the control group (P < 0.05). The number of nerve fibers, diameter of axons and morphological structure of the myelin sheath in the irradiated group were superior to those of the control group. These results suggest that low-dose radiation contributed to regeneration and functional recovery after transverse peripheral nerve injury by inducing increased production of VEGF and GAP-43, which promote the axonal regeneration and myelination.
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Vol. 188 • No. 4