Nerve biopsy is useful in the management of neuromuscular disorders and is commonly performed in distal, noncritical cutaneous nerves. In general, these procedures are diagnostic in only 20%–50%. In selected cases in which preoperative evaluation points toward a more localized process, targeted biopsy would likely improve diagnostic yield. The authors report their experience with targeted fascicular biopsy of the brachial plexus and provide a description of the operative technique.
All cases of targeted biopsy of the brachial plexus biopsy performed between 2003 and 2015 were reviewed. Targeted nerve biopsy was performed using a supraclavicular, infraclavicular, or proximal medial arm approach. Demographic data and clinical presentation as well as the details of the procedure, adverse events (temporary or permanent), and final pathological findings were recorded.
Brachial plexus biopsy was performed in 74 patients (47 women and 27 men). The patients' mean age was 57.7 years. All patients had abnormal findings on physical examination, electrodiagnostic studies, and MRI. The overall diagnostic yield of biopsy was 74.3% (n = 55). The most common diagnoses included inflammatory demyelination (19), breast carcinoma (17), neurolymphomatosis (8), and perineurioma (7). There was a 19% complication rate; most of the complications were minor or transient, but 4 patients (5.4%) had increased numbness and 3 (4.0%) had additional weakness following biopsy.
Targeted fascicular biopsy of the brachial plexus is an effective diagnostic procedure, and in highly selected cases should be considered as the initial procedure over nontargeted, distal cutaneous nerve biopsy. Using MRI to guide the location of a fascicular biopsy, the authors found this technique to produce a higher diagnostic yield than historical norms as well as providing justification for definitive treatment.