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Surgery for nerve injury: current and future perspectives

JNSPG 75th Anniversary Invited Review Article

Rajiv Midha and Joey Grochmal

In this review article, the authors offer their perspective on nerve surgery for nerve injury, with a focus on recent evolution of management and the current surgical management. The authors provide a brief historical perspective to lay the foundations of the modern understanding of clinical nerve injury and its evolving management, especially over the last century. The shift from evaluation of the nerve injury using macroscopic techniques of exploration and external neurolysis to microscopic interrogation, interfascicular dissection, and internal neurolysis along with the use of intraoperative electrophysiology were important advances of the past 50 years. By the late 20th century, the advent and popularization of interfascicular nerve grafting techniques heralded a major advance in nerve reconstruction and allowed good outcomes to be achieved in a large percentage of nerve injury repair cases. In the past 2 decades, there has been a paradigm shift in surgical nerve repair, wherein surgeons are not only directing the repair at the injury zone, but also are deliberately performing distal-targeted nerve transfers as a preferred alternative in an attempt to restore function. The peripheral rewiring approach allows the surgeon to convert a very proximal injury with long regeneration distances and (often) uncertain outcomes to a distal injury and repair with a greater potential of regenerative success and functional recovery. Nerve transfers, originally performed as a salvage procedure for severe brachial plexus avulsion injuries, are now routinely done for various less severe brachial plexus injuries and many other proximal nerve injuries, with reliably good to even excellent results. The outcomes from nerve transfers for select clinical nerve injury are emphasized in this review. Extension of the rewiring paradigm with nerve transfers for CNS lesions such as spinal cord injury and stroke are showing great potential and promise. Cortical reeducation is required for success, and an emerging field of rehabilitation and restorative neurosciences is evident, which couples a nerve transfer procedure to robotically controlled limbs and mind-machine interfacing. The future for peripheral nerve repair has never been more exciting.

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Darryl Lau, Cecilia L. Dalle Ore, Phiroz E. Tarapore, Michael Huang, Geoffrey Manley, Vineeta Singh, Praveen V. Mummaneni, Michael Beattie, Jacqueline Bresnahan, Adam R. Ferguson, Jason F. Talbott, William Whetstone and Sanjay S. Dhall

OBJECTIVE

The elderly are a growing subpopulation within traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) patients. Studies have reported high morbidity and mortality rates in elderly patients who undergo surgery for SCI. In this study, the authors compare the perioperative outcomes of surgically managed elderly SCI patients with those of a younger cohort and those reported in the literature.

METHODS

Data on a consecutive series of adult traumatic SCI patients surgically managed at a single institution in the period from 2007 to 2017 were retrospectively reviewed. The cohort was divided into two groups based on age: younger than 70 years and 70 years or older. Assessed outcomes included complications, in-hospital mortality, intensive care unit (ICU) stay, hospital length of stay (LOS), disposition, and neurological status.

RESULTS

A total of 106 patients were included in the study: 83 young and 23 elderly. The two groups were similar in terms of imaging features (cord hemorrhage and fracture), operative technique, and American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (AIS) grade. The elderly had a significantly higher proportion of cervical SCIs (95.7% vs 71.1%, p = 0.047). There were no significant differences between the young and the elderly in terms of the ICU stay (13.1 vs 13.3 days, respectively, p = 0.948) and hospital LOS (23.3 vs 21.7 days, p = 0.793). Elderly patients experienced significantly higher complication (73.9% vs 43.4%, p = 0.010) and mortality (13.0% vs 1.2%, p = 0.008) rates; in other words, the elderly patients had 1.7 times and 10.8 times the rate of complications and mortality, respectively, than the younger patients. No elderly patients were discharged home (0.0% vs 18.1%, p = 0.029). Discharge AIS grade and AIS grade change were similar between the groups.

CONCLUSIONS

Elderly patients had higher complication and mortality rates than those in younger patients and were less likely to be discharged home. However, it does seem that mortality rates have improved compared to those in prior historical reports.

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Nico Sollmann, Dominik Weidlich, Barbara Cervantes, Elisabeth Klupp, Carl Ganter, Hendrik Kooijman, Claus Zimmer, Ernst J. Rummeny, Bernhard Meyer, Thomas Baum, Jan S. Kirschke and Dimitrios C. Karampinos

OBJECTIVE

Lumbosacral radicular syndrome (LRS) is a very common condition, often requiring diagnostic imaging with the aim of elucidating a structural cause when symptoms are longer lasting. However, findings on conventional anatomical MRI do not necessarily correlate with clinical symptoms, and it is primarily performed for the qualitative evaluation of surrounding compressive structures, such as herniated discs, instead of to evaluate the nerves directly. The present study investigated the performance of quantitative imaging by using magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) in patients with LRS.

METHODS

Eighteen patients (55.6% males, mean age 64.4 ± 10.2 years), with strict unilateral LRS matching at least one dermatome and suspected disc herniation, underwent high-resolution 3-T MRN using T2 mapping. On T2 maps, the presumably affected and contralateral unaffected nerves were identified; subsequent regions of interest (ROIs) were placed at preganglionic, ganglionic, and postganglionic sites; and T2 values were extracted. Patients then underwent an epidural steroid injection (ESI) with local anesthetic agents at the site of suspected nerve affection. T2 values of the affected nerves were compared against the contralateral nerves. Furthermore, receiver operating characteristics were calculated based on the measured T2 values and the responsiveness to ESI.

RESULTS

The mean T2 value was 77.3 ± 1.9 msec for affected nerves and 74.8 ± 1.4 msec for contralateral nerves (p < 0.0001). In relation to ESI performed at the site of suspected nerve affection, MRN with T2 mapping had a sensitivity/specificity of 76.9%/60.0% and a positive/negative predictive value of 83.3%/50.0%. Signal alterations in affected nerves according to qualitative visual inspection were present in only 22.2% of patients.

CONCLUSIONS

As one of the first of its kind, this study revealed elevated T2 values in patients suffering from LRS. T2 values of lumbosacral nerves might be used as more objective parameters to directly detect nerve affection in such patients.

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C. Michael Honey, Zurab Ivanishvili, Christopher R. Honey and Manraj K. S. Heran

OBJECTIVE

The location of the human spinothalamic tract (STT) in the anterolateral spinal cord has been known for more than a century. The exact nature of the neuronal fiber lamination within the STT, however, remains controversial. After correlating in vivo macrostimulation-induced pain/temperature sensation during percutaneous cervical cordotomy with simultaneous CT imaging of the electrode tip location, the authors present a modern description of the somatotopy of the human cervical STT.

METHODS

Twenty patients underwent CT-guided percutaneous cervical cordotomy to alleviate contralateral medication-refractory cancer pain. Patient responses to electrical stimulation (0.01–0.1 V, 50 Hz, 1 msec) were recorded and the electrode location for each response was documented with a contemporaneous CT scan. In a post hoc analysis of the data, the location for each patient’s response(s) was measured and drawn on a diagram of their cord. Positive responses were represented only when the lowest possible voltage (≤ 0.02 V) elicited a response. Negative responses were recorded if there was no clinical response at 0.1 V.

RESULTS

Clinically, patients did well with an average reduction in opiates of 75% at 1 week, and 67% were able to leave the palliative care unit. The size of the cervical cord varied between patients, with an average lateral extent (width) of 11 mm and a height of 9 mm. Responses from the lower limb were represented superficially (lateral) and posteriorly within the anterolateral cord. The area with responses from the upper limb was larger and surrounded those with responses from the lower limb primarily anteriorly and medially, but also posteriorly.

CONCLUSIONS

In this study, the somatotopic organization of the human STT was elucidated for the first time using in vivo macrostimulation and contemporaneous CT imaging during cordotomy. In this cohort of patients, the STT from the lower-limb region was located superficially and posteriorly in the anterolateral quadrant of the cervical cord, with the STT from the upper-limb region surrounding it primarily anteriorly and medially (deep) but also posteriorly. The authors discuss how the previous methods of cordotomy may have biased the earlier versions of STT lamination. They suggest that an ideal spinal cord entry site for cordotomy of either the upper- or lower-limb pain fibers is halfway between the equator and anterior pole of the cord.

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Francis Lovecchio, Jeffrey G. Stepan, Ajay Premkumar, Michael E. Steinhaus, Maria Sava, Peter Derman, Han Jo Kim and Todd Albert

OBJECTIVE

Patients with lumbar spine pathology are at high risk for opioid misuse. Standardizing prescribing practices through an institutional intervention may reduce the overprescribing of opiates, leading to a decrease in the risk for opioid misuse and the number of pills available for diversion. Without quantitative data on the “minimum necessary quantity” of opioids appropriate for postdischarge prescriptions, the optimal method for changing existing prescribing practices is unknown. The purpose of this study was to determine whether mandatory provider education and prescribing guidelines could modify prescriber behavior and lead to a decreased amount of opioids prescribed at hospital discharge following lumbar spine surgery.

METHODS

Qualified staff were required to attend a mandatory educational conference, and a consensus method among the spine service was used to publish qualitative prescribing guidelines. Prescription data for 2479 patients who had undergone lumbar spine surgery were captured and compared based on the timing of surgery. The preintervention group consisted of 1177 patients who had undergone spine surgery in the period before prescriber education and guidelines (March 1, 2016–November 1, 2016). The postintervention group consisted of 1302 patients who had undergone spine surgery after the dissemination of the guidelines (February 1, 2017–October 1, 2017). Surgeries were classified as decompression or fusion procedures. Patients who had undergone surgeries for infection and patients on long-acting opioids were excluded.

RESULTS

For all lumbar spine surgeries (decompression and fusion), the mean amount of opioids prescribed at discharge was lower after the educational program and distribution of prescribing guidelines (629 ± 294 oral morphine equivalent [OME] preintervention vs 490 ± 245 OME postintervention, p < 0.001). The mean number of prescribed pills also decreased (81 ± 26 vs 66 ± 22, p < 0.001). Prescriptions for 81 or more tablets dropped from 65.5% to 25.5%. Tramadol was prescribed more frequently after prescriber education (9.9% vs 18.6%, p < 0.001). Refill rates within 6 weeks were higher after the institutional intervention (7.6% vs 12.4%, p < 0.07).

CONCLUSIONS

Qualitative guidelines and prescriber education are effective in reducing the amount of opioids prescribed at discharge and encouraging the use of weaker opioids. Coupling provider education with prescribing guidelines is likely synergistic in achieving larger reductions. The sustainability of these changes is yet to be determined.

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Hongzhou Duan, Dapeng Mo, Yang Zhang, Jiayong Zhang and Liang Li

OBJECTIVE

Symptomatic steno-occlusion of the proximal vertebral artery (VA) or subclavian artery (ScA) heralds a poor prognosis and high risk of stroke recurrence despite medical therapy, including antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs. In some cases, the V2 segment of the cervical VA is patent and perfused via collateral vessels. The authors describe 7 patients who were successfully treated by external carotid artery (ECA)–saphenous vein (SV)–VA bypass.

METHODS

Seven cases involving symptomatic patients were retrospectively studied: 3 cases of V1 segment occlusion, 2 cases of severe in-stent restenosis in the V1 segment, and 2 cases of occlusion of the proximal ScA. All patients underwent ECA-SV-VA bypass. The ECA was isolated and retracted, and the anterior wall of the transverse foramen was unroofed. The VA was exposed, and then the 2 ends of the SV were anastomosed to the VA and ECA in an end-to-side fashion.

RESULTS

Surgical procedures were all performed as planned, with no intraoperative complications. There were 2 postoperative complications (severe laryngeal edema in one case and shoulder weakness in another), but both patients recovered fully and measures were taken to minimize laryngeal edema and its effects in subsequent cases. All patients experienced improvement of their symptoms. No new neurological deficits were reported. Postoperative angiography demonstrated that the anastomoses were all patent, and analysis of follow-up data (range of follow-up 12–78 months) revealed no further ischemic events in the vertebrobasilar territory.

CONCLUSIONS

The ECA-SV-VA bypass is a useful treatment for patients who suffer medically refractory ischemic events in the vertebrobasilar territory when the proximal part of the VA or ScA is severely stenosed or occluded but the V2 segment of the cervical VA is patent.

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Timothy G. White, Hussam Abou-Al-Shaar, Jung Park, Jeffrey Katz, David J. Langer and Amir R. Dehdashti

OBJECTIVE

Cerebral revascularization for carotid occlusion was previously a mainstay procedure for the cerebrovascular neurosurgeon. However, the 1985 extracranial-intracranial bypass trial and subsequently the Carotid Occlusion Surgery Study (COSS) provided level 1 evidence via randomized controlled trials against bypass for symptomatic atherosclerotic carotid occlusion disease. However, in a small number of patients optimal medical therapy fails, and some patients with flow-limiting stenosis develop a perfusion-dependent neurological examination. Therefore it is necessary to further stratify patients by risk to determine who may most benefit from this intervention as well as to determine perioperative morbidity in this high-risk patient population.

METHODS

A retrospective review was performed of all revascularization procedures done for symptomatic atherosclerotic cerebrovascular steno-occlusive disease. All patients undergoing revascularization after the publication of the COSS in 2011 were included. Perioperative morbidity and mortality were assessed as the primary outcome to determine safety of revascularization in this high-risk population. All patients had documented hypoperfusion on hemodynamic imaging.

RESULTS

At total of 35 revascularization procedures were included in this review. The most common indication was for patients with recurrent strokes, who were receiving optimal medical therapy and who suffered from cerebrovascular steno-occlusion. At 30 days only 3 perioperative ischemic events were observed, 2 of which led to no long-term neurological deficit. Immediate graft patency was good, at 94%. Long term, no further strokes or ischemic events were observed, and graft patency remained high at 95%. There were no factors associated with perioperative ischemic events in the variables that were recorded.

CONCLUSIONS

Cerebral revascularization may be done safely at high-volume cerebrovascular centers in high-risk patients in whom optimal medical therapy has failed. Further research must be done to develop an improved methodology of risk stratification for patients with symptomatic atherosclerotic cerebrovascular steno-occlusive disease to determine which patients may benefit from intervention. Given the high risk of recurrent stroke in certain patients, and the fact that patients fail medical therapy, surgical revascularization may provide the best method to ensure good long-term outcomes with manageable up-front risks.