Journal of biomechanics

Paclitaxel alters sensory nerve biomechanical properties.

PMID 26321364


Paclitaxel is an effective chemotherapeutic that, despite its common use, frequently causes debilitating peripheral sensory neuropathy. Paclitaxel binds to and stabilizes microtubules, and through unknown mechanisms, causes abnormal microtubule aggregation. Given that microtubules contribute to the mechanical properties of cells, we tested the hypothesis that paclitaxel treatment would alter the stiffness of sensory nerves. Rat sural nerves were excised and soaked in Ringer's solution with or without paclitaxel. Nerves were secured between a force transducer and actuator, and linearly strained. Stress-strain curves were generated, from which elastic moduli were calculated. Paclitaxel treated nerves exhibited significantly higher moduli in both linear and transition regions of the curve. A composite-tissue model was then generated to estimate the stiffness increase in the cellular fraction of the nerve following paclitaxel treatment. This model was supported experimentally by data on mechanical properties of sural nerves stripped of their epineurium, and area fractions of the cellular and connective tissue components of the rat sural nerve, calculated from immunohistochemical images. Model results revealed that the cellular components of the nerve must stiffen 12x to 115x, depending on the initial axonal modulus assumed, in order to achieve the observed tissue level mechanical changes. Consistent with such an increase, electron microscopy showed increased microtubule aggregation and cytoskeletal packing, suggestive of a more cross-linked cytoskeleton. Overall, our data suggests that paclitaxel treatment induces increased microtubule bundling in axons, which leads to alterations in tissue-level mechanical properties.