Background: We previously demonstrated that topical cutaneous application of CO2, by means of a hydrogel in which the CO2 readily dissolves, increases blood flow and oxygen dissociation from hemoglobin in the soft tissues surrounding bone. In the present study, we utilized a rat fracture model to test the hypothesis that application of this treatment to fractured limbs would accelerate fracture repair.
Methods: A closed femoral shaft fracture was created in each rat. Topical cutaneous application of CO2 by means of a hydrogel was performed five times a week for up to four weeks in the CO2/hydrogel group (n = 60). Sham treatments were performed in the control group (n = 60). Radiographic, histological, immunohistochemical, laser Doppler perfusion imaging, real-time polymerase chain reaction, and biomechanical assessments were performed.
Results: Radiographic fracture union was evident at week 3 in twelve (86%) of fourteen animals in the CO2/hydrogel group compared with five (36%) of fourteen in the control group (p < 0.05; 95% CI [confidence interval] for the difference in union rate, 2.26% to 99.64%). Histological assessment revealed promotion of endochondral ossification in the CO2/hydrogel group. Immunohistochemical assessment at week 2 showed significantly greater capillary density in the CO2/hydrogel group (p < 0.05; 95% CI for the difference, 161 to 258 per mm(2)). Laser Doppler perfusion imaging demonstrated that the blood flow in the fractured limb was significantly greater at weeks 2 and 3 in the CO2/hydrogel group (p < 0.05; 95% CI for the difference, 8.4% to 22.4% and 6.7% to 19.0%, respectively). Gene expression of chondrogenic, osteogenic, and angiogenic markers was significantly greater in the CO2/hydrogel group at several time points. Ultimate stress, extrinsic stiffness, and failure energy (relative to the contralateral limb) were significantly greater in the CO2/hydrogel group at week 3 (p < 0.05; 95% CI for the difference, 24.8% to 67.5%, 4.0 % to 22.7%, and 9.6% to 58.8%, respectively). There were no significant differences between the groups with respect to any outcome measure at week 4.
Conclusions: Topical cutaneous application of CO2 by means of a hydrogel accelerated fracture repair in association with the promotion of angiogenesis, blood flow, and endochondral ossification.