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Lara L. Cohen, Brian W. Yang, Nora P. O’Neill, Mark R. Proctor, Michael P. Glotzbecker and Daniel J. Hedequist


Patients with trisomy 21 (Down syndrome; DS) often have atlantoaxial instability (AAI), which, if severe, causes myelopathy and neurological deterioration. Children with DS and AAI who undergo cervical spine fusion have a high rate of nonunion requiring revision surgery. Recombinant human bone morphogenetic protein–2 (rhBMP-2) is a TGF-β growth factor that is used to induce bone formation in spine fusion. Although previous studies in the adult population have reported no reduction in pseudarthrosis rates with the use of rhBMP-2, there is a lack of literature in the pediatric DS population. This study describes the use of rhBMP-2 in children with DS and AAI during revision to treat nonunion.


A retrospective review of a cervical spine fusion database (n = 175) was conducted. This database included all cervical spine fusions using modern instrumentation at the authors’ institution from 2002 to 2019. Patients with DS who underwent a revision utilizing rhBMP-2 were included in the study. The number of prior fusions, use of rhBMP-2 in fusions, length of stay, halo use, and surgical data were collected. Postoperative complications and length of follow-up were also recorded.


Eight patients (75% female) met the inclusion criteria. The average age at revision with rhBMP-2 was 11 years (range 3–19 years). All patients were diagnosed with nonunion after an initial cervical fusion. All revisions were posterior fusions of C1–2 (n = 2) or occiput to cervical (n = 6). All revisions included implant revisions, iliac crest bone grafting, and rhBMP-2 use. One patient required irrigation and debridement of an rhBMP-induced seroma. Another patient required return to the operating room to repair a dural tear. There were no neurological, infectious, airway, or implant-related complications. Revision utilizing rhBMP-2 achieved fusion in 100% (n = 8) of patients. The average length of follow-up was 42.6 months. All patients demonstrated solid fusion mass on the last radiograph.


This is the first case series reporting the successful use of rhBMP-2 to facilitate cervical spine fusion in patients with DS after previous nonunion. In addition, few rhBMP-2–related postoperative complications occurred.