Research by The Open University has shed new light on how peripheral nerves accommodate normal limb movement. The study, published in the Journal of the Peripheral Nervous System (JPNS), will be of interest to clinicians working to repair damaged nerves and physiotherapists treating nerve-related problems.
Dr James Phillips, Lecturer in Health Sciences at The Open University and Principal Investigator, said: “We’ve been investigating how peripheral nerves are adapted to cope with the bending and stretching to which they are subjected during normal movement. If this ability is compromised, for example after nerve injury, it can lead to pain, fibrosis and loss of function. Little is known about how the structure of nerves allows them to bend and stretch normally. Our research shows localised variation in collagen in the areas near joints that could explain how the nerves cope with limb movement.”
Dr Phillips’ PhD student, Sarah Mason, conducted the study published in JPNS, which is part of a programme of work that aims to understand nerve biomechanics in order to improve surgical nerve repair. Previous research by Dr Phillips’ group showed that nerves are more compliant at joints compared to other parts of the limbs. In particular, in the median nerve, which controls hand function, there is an area of increased compliance at the elbow joint.
The new study reported that median nerves at joint regions showed a pattern of smaller diameter collagen fibrils than non-joint regions. Increased nerve compliance at joints may therefore be due to the presence of collagen fibrils with smaller diameters and increased density, compared to those in stiffer non-joint regions.
The study indicated that collagen fibril diameter may be a key feature contributing to the mechanical function of nerves, which provides new insight into how these nerves accommodate localised strain during limb movement.
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