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C. Michael Honey, Zurab Ivanishvili, Christopher R. Honey and Manraj K. S. Heran

OBJECTIVE

The location of the human spinothalamic tract (STT) in the anterolateral spinal cord has been known for more than a century. The exact nature of the neuronal fiber lamination within the STT, however, remains controversial. After correlating in vivo macrostimulation-induced pain/temperature sensation during percutaneous cervical cordotomy with simultaneous CT imaging of the electrode tip location, the authors present a modern description of the somatotopy of the human cervical STT.

METHODS

Twenty patients underwent CT-guided percutaneous cervical cordotomy to alleviate contralateral medication-refractory cancer pain. Patient responses to electrical stimulation (0.01–0.1 V, 50 Hz, 1 msec) were recorded and the electrode location for each response was documented with a contemporaneous CT scan. In a post hoc analysis of the data, the location for each patient’s response(s) was measured and drawn on a diagram of their cord. Positive responses were represented only when the lowest possible voltage (≤ 0.02 V) elicited a response. Negative responses were recorded if there was no clinical response at 0.1 V.

RESULTS

Clinically, patients did well with an average reduction in opiates of 75% at 1 week, and 67% were able to leave the palliative care unit. The size of the cervical cord varied between patients, with an average lateral extent (width) of 11 mm and a height of 9 mm. Responses from the lower limb were represented superficially (lateral) and posteriorly within the anterolateral cord. The area with responses from the upper limb was larger and surrounded those with responses from the lower limb primarily anteriorly and medially, but also posteriorly.

CONCLUSIONS

In this study, the somatotopic organization of the human STT was elucidated for the first time using in vivo macrostimulation and contemporaneous CT imaging during cordotomy. In this cohort of patients, the STT from the lower-limb region was located superficially and posteriorly in the anterolateral quadrant of the cervical cord, with the STT from the upper-limb region surrounding it primarily anteriorly and medially (deep) but also posteriorly. The authors discuss how the previous methods of cordotomy may have biased the earlier versions of STT lamination. They suggest that an ideal spinal cord entry site for cordotomy of either the upper- or lower-limb pain fibers is halfway between the equator and anterior pole of the cord.

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Christopher R. Honey, Peter Gooderham, Murray Morrison and Zurab Ivanishvili

The authors describe a novel cranial neuropathy manifesting with life-threatening episodic hemilaryngopharyngeal spasm (HELPS). A 50-year-old woman presented with a 4-year history of intermittent throat contractions, escalating to life-threatening respiratory distress. Botulinum toxin injections into her right vocal cord reduced the severity of her spasms, but the episodes continued to occur. MRI demonstrated a possible neurovascular conflict involving the cranial nerve IX–X complex and the posterior inferior cerebellar artery. Microvascular decompression of the upper rootlets of the vagal nerve eliminated her HELPS without complication. The authors propose a mechanism of HELPS implicating isolated involvement of the upper motor rootlets of the vagus nerve.

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Anujan Poologaindran, Zurab Ivanishvili, Murray D. Morrison, Linda A. Rammage, Mini K. Sandhu, Nancy E. Polyhronopoulos and Christopher R. Honey

Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is a neurological disorder of the voice where a patient's ability to speak is compromised due to involuntary contractions of the intrinsic laryngeal muscles. Since the 1980s, SD has been treated with botulinum toxin A (BTX) injections into the throat. This therapy is limited by the delayed-onset of benefits, wearing-off effects, and repeated injections required every 3 months. In a patient with essential tremor (ET) and coincident SD, the authors set out to quantify the effects of thalamic deep brain stimulation (DBS) on vocal function while investigating the underlying motor thalamic circuitry.

A 79-year-old right-handed woman with ET and coincident adductor SD was referred to our neurosurgical team. While primarily treating her limb tremor, the authors studied the effects of unilateral, thalamic DBS on vocal function using the Unified Spasmodic Dysphonia Rating Scale (USDRS) and voice-related quality of life (VRQOL). Since dystonia is increasingly being considered a multinodal network disorder, an anterior trajectory into the left thalamus was deliberately chosen such that the proximal contacts of the electrode were in the ventral oralis anterior (Voa) nucleus (pallidal outflow) and the distal contacts were in the ventral intermediate (Vim) nucleus (cerebellar outflow). In addition to assessing on/off unilateral thalamic Vim stimulation on voice, the authors experimentally assessed low-voltage unilateral Vim, Voa, or multitarget stimulation in a prospective, randomized, doubled-blinded manner. The evaluators were experienced at rating SD and were familiar with the vocal tremor of ET. A Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used to study the pre- and posttreatment effect of DBS on voice.

Unilateral left thalamic Vim stimulation (DBS on) significantly improved SD vocal dysfunction compared with no stimulation (DBS off), as measured by the USDRS (p < 0.01) and VRQOL (p < 0.01). In the experimental interrogation, both low-voltage Vim (p < 0.01) and multitarget Vim + Voa (p < 0.01) stimulation were significantly superior to low-voltage Voa stimulation.

For the first time, the effects of high-frequency stimulation of different neural circuits in SD have been quantified. Unexpectedly, focused Voa (pallidal outflow) stimulation was inferior to Vim (cerebellar outflow) stimulation despite the classification of SD as a dystonia. While only a single case, scattered reports exist on the positive effects of thalamic DBS on dysphonia. A Phase 1 pilot trial (DEBUSSY; clinical trial no. NCT02558634, clinicaltrials.gov) is underway at the authors' center to evaluate the safety and preliminary efficacy of DBS in SD. The authors hope that this current report stimulates neurosurgeons to investigate this new indication for DBS.