Object. Because central nervous system white matter exerts a powerful inhibitory effect on axonal growth, implantation of nerve grafts or rootlets into the cervical spinal cord following ventral root avulsion injury should, ideally, be performed directly through the ventral root exit zone (VRExZ), which is located near the anteromedial aspect of the anterior horn; the grafts/rootlets should not be implanted into the white matter of the lateral cord. This is not possible when using a conservative posterior approach. Therefore, the authors have studied the anatomy encountered when using the anterolateral approach and evaluated the technique in the particular case of avulsed ventral nerve roots. They also present a case illustration of the procedure, which is used currently in their department.
Methods. Anterior access to the rootlets is obtained using a lateral interscalenic approach; the vertebral artery is exposed and mobilized, and oblique drilling of the vertebral bodies (VBs) is performed. Because the articular processes and half of the VBs are preserved, fusion is not required.
The approach allows the surgeon to expose the anterior aspect of the cervical dura and the entire length of the emerging spinal nerves. The anterior aspect of the dura is opened at the desired levels for VRExZ exposure, and the position is ideal for implantation of the graft/rootlets. The interscalenic dissection is mandatory so that the lesions of the supraclavicular plexus can be evaluated and repaired. If necessary, the anterior approach allows for exploration of the infraclavicular plexus during the same procedure.
Conclusions. The use of a true anterior approach to the ventral rootlets appears to be a valuable and appropriate approach that avoids extensive laminectomy/facetectomy while reimplantation is performed through the anterolateral sulcus itself. In this approach, however, reimplantation of dorsal roots into the spinal cord remains impossible.