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Martin H. Weiss and William T. Couldwell

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James K. LIU, Aaron A. Cohen-Gadol, Edward R. Laws Jr., Chad D. Cole, Peter Kan and William T. Couldwell

✓ The transnasal transsphenoidal approach is the preferred route for removal of most lesions of the sella turcica. The concept of transnasal surgery traversing the sphenoid sinus to reach the sella has existed for nearly a century. A comprehensive historical overview of the evolution of transsphenoidal surgery has been reported previously. In the present vignette, the authors focus on transsphenoidal surgery in the early 1900s, particularly on the methods advocated by Harvey Cushing and Oskar Hirsch, two prominent pituitary surgeons who pioneered the transsphenoidal technique. Cushing championed the sublabial approach, whereas Hirsch was the master of the endonasal route. Coincidentally, both surgeons independently performed the submucous septal resection for the first time on June 4, 1910. Although Cushing's and Hirsch's approaches were predicated on the work of their predecessors, their transsphenoidal procedures became the two most popular techniques and, for future generations of pituitary surgeons, laid the foundation for modern transsphenoidal surgery. In this comparative analysis, the authors compare the operative nuances of the approaches of Cushing and Hirsch and describe the contributions of these pioneers to modern transsphenoidal surgery.

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William T. Couldwell, Martin H. Weiss and Edward R. Laws Jr


Whether the withdrawal of treatment in patients with nontumoral hyperprolactinemia, microprolactinomas, or macroprolactinomas is safe and effective has been unclear. We performed an observational, prospective study of cabergoline (a dopamine-receptor agonist) withdrawal in such patients.


The study population included 200 patients—25 patients with nontumoral hyperprolactinemia, 105 with microprolactinomas, and 70 with macroprolactinomas. Withdrawal of cabergoline was considered if prolactin levels were normal, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed no tumor (or tumor reduction of 50 percent or more, with the tumor at a distance of more than 5 mm from the optic chiasm, and no invasion of the cavernous sinuses or other critical areas), and if follow-up after withdrawal could be continued for at least 24 months.


Recurrence rates two to five years after the withdrawal of cabergoline were 24 percent in patients with nontumoral hyperprolactinemia, 31 percent in patients with microprolactinomas, and 36 percent in patients with macroprolactinomas. Renewed tumor growth did not occur in any patient; in 10 female patients (22 percent) and 7 male patients (39 percent) with recurrent hyperprolactinemia, gonadal dysfunction redeveloped. In all diagnostic groups, prolactin levels at the time of recurrence were significantly lower than at diagnosis (p < 0.001). The Kaplan–Meier estimated rate of recurrence at five years was higher among patients with macroprolactinomas and those with microprolactinomas who had small remnant tumors visible on MRI at the time of treatment withdrawal than among patients whose MRI scans showed no evidence of tumor at the time of withdrawal (patients with macroprolactinomas, 78 percent vs. 33 percent, P = 0.001; patients with microprolactinomas, 42 percent vs. 26 percent, P = 0.02).


Cabergoline can be safely withdrawn in patients with normalized prolactin levels and no evidence of tumor. However, because the length of follow-up in our study was insufficient to rule out a delayed increase in the size of the tumor, we suggest that patients be closely monitored, particularly those with macroprolactinomas, in whom renewed growth of the tumor may compromise vision.

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James K. Liu, Kaushik Das, Martin H. Weiss, Edward R. Laws Jr and William T. Couldwell

✓ Initial attempts at transcranial approaches to the pituitary gland in the late 1800s and early 1900s resulted in a mortality rate that was generally considered prohibitive. Schloffer suggested the use of a transsphenoidal route as a safer, alternative approach to the sella turcica. He reported the first successful removal of a pituitary tumor via the transsphenoidal approach in 1906. His procedure underwent a number of modifications by interested surgeons, the culmination of which was A. E. Halstead's description in 1910 of a sublabial gingival incision for the initial stage of exposure. From 1910 to 1925, Cushing, combining a number of suggestions made by previous authors, refined the transsphenoidal approach and used it to operate on 231 pituitary tumors, with a mortality rate of 5.6%. As he developed increasing expertise with transcranial surgery, however, Cushing reduced his mortality rate to 4.5%. With the transcranial approach, he was able to verify suprasellar tumors and achieve better decompression of the optic apparatus, resulting in better recovery of vision and a lower recurrence rate. As a result he and most other neurosurgeons at the time abandoned the transnasal in favor of the transcranial approaches.

Norman Dott, a visiting scholar who studied with Cushing in 1923, returned to Edinburgh, Scotland, and continued to use the transsphenoidal procedure while others pursued transcranial approaches. Dott introduced the procedure to Gerard Guiot, who published excellent results with the transsphenoidal approach and revived the interest of many physicians throughout Europe in the early 1960s. Jules Hardy, who used intraoperative fluoroscopy while learning the transsphenoidal approach from Guiot, then introduced the operating microscope to further refine the procedure; he thereby significantly improved its efficacy and decreased surgical morbidity. With the development of antibiotic drugs and modern microinstrumentation, the transsphenoidal approach became the preferred route for the removal of lesions that were confined to the sella turcica. The evolution of the transsphenoidal approaches and their current applications and modifications are discussed.