The effects of chemogenetics on axon regeneration following peripheral nerve transection and repair were studied in mice expressing a Cre-dependent excitatory designer receptor exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADD) and Cre-recombinase/yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) in a subset of motor and sensory neurons and cortical motoneurons (SLICK-A). Sciatic nerves were cut and repaired and mice were treated either once, at the time of injury, or five days per week for two weeks with clozapine N-oxide (CNO) (1 mg/kg, i.p.), or were untreated controls. Two weeks after injury, the lengths of YFP+ axon profiles were measured in nerves harvested from euthanized animals. Compared to untreated controls, regenerating axon lengths were not significantly longer in mice treated only once with CNO, but they were more than three times longer in mice receiving CNO repeatedly. Based on results of retrograde labeling experiments, axons of more sensory and motor neurons had regenerated successfully in mice receiving multiple CNO treatments than animals receiving only one treatment or no treatments. The increase in numbers of labeled sensory, but not motor neurons could be accounted for by increases in the proportion of retrogradely labeled neurons also expressing the DREADD. Chemogenetic increases in neuronal excitability represent a potent and innovative treatment to promote peripheral nerve regeneration.
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