Cutaneous expression of growth-associated protein 43 is not a compelling marker for human nerve regeneration in carpal tunnel syndrome
Carroll L., Sandy-Hindmarch O., Baskozos G., Zhu GC., McCarthy J., Schmid A.
Growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43) has long been used as a marker for nerve regeneration following nerve injury, with numerous in vitro and animal studies showing its upregulation in regenerating neurons. In humans, expression of GAP-43 has predominantly been examined in skin biopsies from patients with peripheral neuropathies; with several studies showing a reduction in GAP-43 immunoreactive cutaneous nerve fibres. However, it remains elusive whether cutaneous GAP-43 is a valid marker for human nerve regeneration. Here, we present a cohort of 22 patients with electrodiagnostically confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), used as a model system for focal nerve injury and neural regeneration after decompression surgery. We evaluate GAP-43 immunoreactivity and RNA expression levels in finger skin biopsies taken before and 6 months after surgery, relative to healthy controls. We further classify patients as ‘regenerators’ or ‘non-regenerators’ based on post-surgical epidermal re-innervation. We demonstrate that patients with CTS have lower GAP-43 positive intra-epidermal nerve fibre density (IENFD) before surgery than healthy controls. However, this difference disappears when normalising for total IENFD. Of note, we found surgery did not change GAP-43 expression in IENF, with no differences both in patients who were classified as regenerators and non-regenerators. We also did not identify pre-post surgical differences in cutaneous GAP-43 gene expression or associations with regeneration. These findings suggest cutaneous GAP-43 may not be a compelling marker for nerve regeneration in humans.