Intraoperative electrophysiology during single-level selective dorsal rhizotomy: technique, stimulation threshold, and response data in a series of 145 patients

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Selective dorsal rhizotomy (SDR) is effective at permanently reducing spasticity in children with spastic cerebral palsy. The value of intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring in this procedure remains controversial, and its robustness has been questioned. This study describes the authors’ institutional electrophysiological technique (based on the technique of Park et al.), intraoperative findings, robustness, value to the procedure, and occurrence of new motor or sphincter deficits.


The authors analyzed electrophysiological data of all children who underwent SDR at their center between September 2013 and February 2019. All patients underwent bilateral SDR through a single-level laminotomy at the conus and with transection of about 60% of the L2–S2 afferent rootlets (guided by intraoperative electrophysiology) and about 50% of L1 afferent roots (nonselectively).


One hundred forty-five patients underwent SDR (64% male, mean age 6 years and 7 months, range 2 years and 9 months to 14 years and 10 months). Dorsal roots were distinguished from ventral roots anatomically and electrophysiologically, by assessing responses on free-running electromyography (EMG) and determining stimulation thresholds (≥ 0.2 mA in all dorsal rootlets). Root level was determined anatomically and electrophysiologically by assessing electromyographic response to stimulation. Median stimulation threshold was lower in sacral compared to lumbar roots (p < 0.001), and 16% higher on the first operated (right) side (p = 0.023), but unrelated to age, sex, or functional status. Similarly, responses to tetanic stimulation were consistent: 87% were graded 3+ or 4+, with similar distributions between sides. This was also unrelated to age, sex, and functional status. The L2–S2 rootlets were divided (median 60%, range 50%–67%), guided by response to tetanic stimulation at threshold amplitude. No new motor or sphincter deficits were observed, suggesting sparing of ventral roots and sphincteric innervation, respectively.


This electrophysiological technique appears robust and reproducible, allowing reliable identification of afferent nerve roots, definition of root levels, and guidance for rootlet division. Only a direct comparative study will establish whether intraoperative electrophysiology during SDR minimizes risk of new motor or sphincter worsening and/or maximizes functional outcome.

ABBREVIATIONS CI = confidence interval; CP = cerebral palsy; EMG = electromyography; GMFCS = Gross Motor Function Classification System; SDR = selective dorsal rhizotomy.

Supplementary Materials

  • Supplementary Table 1 and Figs. 1 and 2 (PDF 501 KB)
Article Information

Contributor Notes

Correspondence Kristian Aquilina: Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom. WHEN CITING Published online February 28, 2020; DOI: 10.3171/2019.12.PEDS19372.

P.D.V. and T.J.H. contributed equally to this study and share first authorship.

Disclosures Dr. De Vloo reports receiving grants for travel and education from Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude/Abbott.


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