Surgical approaches to the ventrolateral pons pose a significant challenge. In this report, the authors describe a safe entry zone to the brainstem located just above the trigeminal entry zone which they refer to as the “epitrigeminal entry zone.”
The approach is presented in the context of an illustrative case of a cavernous malformation and is compared with the other commonly described approaches to the ventrolateral pons. The anatomical nuances were analyzed in detail with the aid of surgical images and video, anatomical dissections, and high-definition fiber tractography (HDFT). In addition, using the HDFT maps obtained in 77 normal subjects (154 sides), the authors performed a detailed anatomical study of the surgically relevant distances between the trigeminal entry zone and the corticospinal tracts.
The patient treated with this approach had a complete resection of his cavernous malformation, and improvement of his symptoms. With regard to the HDFT anatomical study, the average direct distance of the corticospinal tracts from the trigeminal entry zone was 12.6 mm (range 8.7–17 mm). The average vertical distance was 3.6 mm (range −2.3 to 8.7 mm). The mean distances did not differ significantly from side to side, or across any of the groups studied (right-handed, left-handed, and ambidextrous).
The epitrigeminal entry zone to the brainstem appears to be safe and effective for treating intrinsic ventrolateral pontine pathological entities. A possible advantage of this approach is increased versatility in the rostrocaudal axis, providing access both above and below the trigeminal nerve. Familiarity with the subtemporal transtentorial approach, and the reliable surgical landmark of the trigeminal entry zone, should make this a straightforward approach.