Differences in the microstructure and biomechanical properties of the recurrent laryngeal nerve as a function of age and location

Megan J. Williams, Urs Utzinger, Julie M. Barkmeier-Kraemer, Jonathan P.Vande Geest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Idiopathic onset of unilateral vocal fold paralysis (UVP) is caused by damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) and results in difficulty speaking, breathing, and swallowing. This damage may occur in this nerve as it loops around the aortic arch, which is in a dynamic biomechanical environment. The goal of this study is to determine if the location-dependent biomechanical and microstructural properties of the RLN are different in piglets versus adolescent pigs. The neck/distal and thoracic/proximal (near the aortic arch) regions of the RLN from eight adolescent pigs and six piglets were isolated and mechanically assessed in uni-axial tension. Two-photon imaging (second harmonic) data were collected at 5%, 10%, and 15% strain during the mechanical test. The tangential modulus (TM) and the strain energy density (W) were determined at each level of strain. The mean mode of the preferred fiber angle and the full width at half maximum (FWHM, a measure of fiber splay) were calculated from the imaging data. We found significantly larger values of TM, W, and FWHM in the proximal segments of the left RLN when compared to the distal segments (18.51 MPa±1.22 versus 10.78 MPa±1.22, p<0.001 for TM, 0.046 MPa±0.01 versus 0.026 MPa±0.01, p<0.003 for W, 15.52 deg61.00 versus 12.98 deg61.00, p<0.001 for FWHM). TM and W were larger in the left segments than the right (15.32 MPa±1.20 versus 11.80 MPa±1.20, p<0.002 for TM, 0.038 MPa±0.01 versus 0.028 MPa±0.01, p<0.0001 for W). W was larger in piglets when compared to adolescent pigs (0.042 MPa±0.01 versus 0.025 MPa±0.01, p<0.04). The proximal region of the left porcine RLN is more stiff than the distal region and has a higher degree of fiber splay. The left RLN of the adolescent pigs also displayed a higher degree of strain stiffening than the right. These differences may develop as a result of the more dynamic environment the left RLN is in as it loops around the aortic arch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number081008
JournalJournal of Biomechanical Engineering
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Physiology (medical)


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