Background: The purpose of this study was to assess the expression of molecular markers and epineural blood flow after differing degrees of nerve injury to identify potential tools to predict nerve recovery in a rat sciatic nerve model. Methods: A total of 72 rats were divided into nine groups. Each group was subjected to one of three crush injuries, created by applying one of three vascular clamps for 30 seconds. Vascularity was assessed with laser Doppler flowmetry before and after crush, and at nonsurvival surgery. Nonsurvival surgeries were performed 6 hours, 2 weeks, or 6 weeks later with nerve conduction studies and muscle strength testing. Expression of matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) and matrix metalloproteinase 2 (MMP-2) in each nerve was quantified using with enzyme linked immunosorbent analysis. Results: Persistent hyperemia was noted in the zone of injury compared with baseline at 2 weeks and 6 weeks in the groups that displayed incomplete recovery. Expression of MMP-9 at 6 hours increased with increasing severity of crush and was inversely related to tibialis anterior muscle force recovery. The ratio of MMP-9:MMP-2 expression correlated well with recovery of compound nerve action potential amplitude at 6 weeks. Conclusions: Resolution of nerve hyperemia may correlate with nerve recovery from trauma, but early measures of nerve blood flow after injury are not prognostic of recovery. Ratio of MMP-9:MMP-2 expression 6 hours after injury correlates with recovery of compound nerve action potential at 6 weeks, while MMP-9 expression alone predicts tibialis anterior recovery. These findings together suggest that increased MMP-9 expression is a potentially useful marker of more severe nerve injury.
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