MRI evaluation of nerve root avulsion in neonatal brachial plexus palsy: understanding the presence of isolated dorsal/ventral rootlet disruption

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  • 1 Departments of Neurosurgery and
  • 2 Radiology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
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OBJECTIVE

The evaluation, treatment, and prognosis of neonatal brachial plexus palsy (NBPP) continues to have many areas of debate, including the use of ancillary testing. Given the continued improvement in imaging, it is important to revisit its utility. Nerve root avulsions have historically been identified by the presence of pseudomeningoceles or visible ruptures. This “all-or-none” definition of nerve root avulsions has many implications for the understanding and management of NBPP, especially as characterization of the proximal nerve root as a potential donor remains critical. This study examined the ability of high-resolution MRI to more specifically define the anatomy of nerve root avulsions by individually examining the ventral and dorsal rootlets as they exit the spinal cord.

METHODS

This is a retrospective review of patients who had undergone brachial plexus protocol MRI for clinical evaluation of NBPP at a single institution. Each MR image was independently reviewed by a board-certified neuroradiologist, who was blinded to both established diagnosis/surgical findings and laterality. Each dorsal and ventral nerve rootlet bilaterally from C5 to T1 was evaluated from the spinal cord to its exit in the neuroforamen. Each rootlet was classified as avulsed, intact, or undeterminable.

RESULTS

Sixty infants underwent brachial plexus protocol MRI from 2010 to 2018. All infants were included in this study. Six hundred individual rootlets were analyzed. There were 49 avulsed nerve rootlets in this cohort. Twenty-nine (59%) combined dorsal/ventral avulsions involved both the ventral and dorsal rootlets, and 20 (41%) were either isolated ventral or isolated dorsal rootlet avulsions. Of the isolated avulsion injuries, 13 (65%) were dorsal only, meaning that the motor rootlets were intact.

CONCLUSIONS

A closer look at nerve root avulsions with MRI demonstrates a significant prevalence (approximately 41%) of isolated dorsal or ventral nerve rootlet disruptions. This finding implies that nerve roots previously labeled as “avulsed” but with only isolated dorsal (sensory) rootlet avulsion can yet provide donor fascicles in reconstruction strategies. A majority (99%) of the rootlets can be clearly visualized with MRI. These findings may significantly impact the clinical understanding of neonatal brachial plexus injury and its treatment.

ABBREVIATIONS NBPP = neonatal brachial plexus palsy.

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Contributor Notes

Correspondence Lynda J. S. Yang: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI. ljsyang@med.umich.edu.

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online March 12, 2021; DOI: 10.3171/2020.9.PEDS20326.

Disclosures The authors report no conflict of interest concerning the materials or methods used in this study or the findings specified in this paper.

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