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Awake brain surgery for language mapping in pediatric patients: a single-center experience

Johannes Herta, Fabian Winter, Ekaterina Pataraia, Martha Feucht, Thomas Czech, Barbara Porsche, Ulrike Leiss, Irene Slavc, Andreas Peyrl, Gregor Kasprian, Karl Rössler, and Christian Dorfer


The goal of this study was to evaluate the feasibility, benefit, and safety of awake brain surgery (ABS) and intraoperative language mapping in children and adolescents with structural epilepsies. Whereas ABS is an established method to monitor language function in adults intraoperatively, reports of ABS in children are scarce.


A retrospective chart review of pediatric patients ≤ 18 years of age who underwent ABS and cortical language mapping for supratentorial tumors and nontumoral epileptogenic lesions between 2008 and 2019 was conducted. The authors evaluated the global intellectual and specific language performance by using detailed neuropsychological testing, the patient’s intraoperative compliance, results of intraoperative language mapping assisted by electrocorticography (ECoG), and postsurgical language development and seizure outcomes. Descriptive statistics were used for this study, with a statistical significance of p < 0.05.


Eleven children (7 boys) with a median age of 13 years (range 10–18 years) underwent ABS for a lesion in close vicinity to cortical language areas as defined by structural and functional MRI (left hemisphere in 9 children, right hemisphere in 2). Patients were neurologically intact but experiencing seizures; these were refractory to therapy in 9 patients. Compliance during the awake phase was high in 10 patients and low in 1 patient. Cortical mapping identified eloquent language areas in 6/10 (60%) patients and was concordant in 3/8 (37.5%), discordant in 3/8 (37.5%), and unclear in 2/8 (25%) patients compared to preoperative functional MRI. Stimulation-induced seizures occurred in 2 patients and could be interrupted easily. ECoG revealed that afterdischarge potentials (ADP) were involved in 5/9 (56%) patients with speech disturbances during stimulation. None of these patients harbored postoperative language dysfunction. Gross-total resection was achieved in 10/11 (91%) patients, and all were seizure free after a median follow-up of 4.3 years. Neuropsychological testing using the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and the verbal learning and memory test showed an overall nonsignificant trend toward an immediate postoperative deterioration followed by an improvement to above preoperative levels after 1 year.


ABS is a valuable technique in selected pediatric patients with lesions in language areas. An interdisciplinary approach, careful patient selection, extensive preoperative training of patients, and interpretation of intraoperative ADP are pivotal to a successful surgery.