Sporadic cases of endonasal intraaxial brainstem surgery have been reported in the recent literature. The authors endeavored to assess the feasibility and limitations of endonasal endoscopic surgery for approaching lesions in the ventral portion of the brainstem.
Five human cadaveric heads were used to assess the anatomy and to record various measurements. Extended transsphenoidal and transclival approaches were performed. After exposing the brainstem, white matter dissection was attempted through this endoscopic window, and additional key measurements were taken.
The rostral exposure of the brainstem was limited by the sella. The lateral limits of the exposure were the intracavernous carotid arteries at the level of the sellar floor, the intrapetrous carotid arteries at the level of the petrous apex, and the inferior petrosal sinuses toward the basion. Caudal extension necessitated partial resection of the anterior C-1 arch and the odontoid process. The midline pons and medulla were exposed in all specimens. Trigeminal nerves were barely visible without the use of angled endoscopes. Access to the peritrigeminal safe zone for gaining entry into the brainstem is medially limited by the pyramidal tract, with a mean lateral pyramidal distance (LPD) of 4.8 ± 0.8 mm. The mean interpyramidal distance was 3.6 ± 0.5 mm, and it progressively decreased toward the pontomedullary junction. The corticospinal tracts (CSTs) coursed from deep to superficial in a craniocaudal direction. The small caliber of the medulla with very superficial CSTs left no room for a safe ventral dissection. The mean pontobasilar midline index averaged at 0.44 ± 0.1.
Endoscopic endonasal approaches are best suited for pontine intraaxial tumors when they are close to the midline and strictly anterior to the CST, or for exophytic lesions. Approaching the medulla is anatomically feasible, but the superficiality of the eloquent tracts and interposed nerves limit the safe entry zones. Pituitary transposition after sellar opening is necessary to access the mesencephalon.