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Thomas Carlstedt and Georg Norén

✓ A 22-year-old woman sustained a brachial plexus injury with supraganglionic rupture of the C-8 and T-1 nerve roots as a result of a traffic accident. She was operated on approximately 1 week following the accident. After a hemilaminectomy, the intradural defects in the ruptured roots were bridged with sural nerve grafts. Within 3 years she recovered function in all muscles supplied from the lower roots in the plexus except for the intrinsic hand muscles, but she had a persisting, complete sensory loss in the ulnar nerve distribution. The possibility for functional gain after repair of spinal root lesions in brachial plexus patients is discussed.

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Eva Maria Lang, Jörg Borges and Thomas Carlstedt

Object. The purpose of this study was to analyze therapeutic possibilities and clinical outcomes in patients with lumbosacral plexus injuries to develop surgical concepts of treatment.

Methods. In a retrospective investigation 10 patients with injuries to the lumbosacral plexus were evaluated after surgery. The patients were assessed clinically, electrophysiologically, and based on the results of magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography myelography. In most patients a traction injury had occurred due to severe trauma that also caused pelvic fractures. In most cases the roots of the cauda equina of the lumbosacral plexus had ruptured. In cases of spinal root ruptures repair with nerve grafts were performed. In cases in which proximal stumps of the plexus could not be retrieved palliative nerve transfers by using lower intercostals nerves or fascicles from the femoral nerve were performed.

Conclusions. Lesions of the proximal spinal nerves and cauda equina occur in the most serious lumbosacral plexus injuries. Patients with such injuries subjected to reconstruction of spinal nerves, repair of ventral roots in the cauda equina, and nerve transfers recovered basic lower-extremity functions such as unsupported standing and walking.

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Thomas Carlstedt, V. Peter Misra, Anastasia Papadaki, Donald McRobbie and Praveen Anand

Motor but not sensory function has been described after spinal cord surgery in patients with brachial plexus avulsion injury. In the featured case, motor-related nerve roots as well as sensory spinal nerves distal to the dorsal root ganglion were reconnected to neurons in the ventral and dorsal horns of the spinal cord by implanting nerve grafts. Peripheral and sensory functions were assessed 10 years after an accident and subsequent spinal cord surgery. The biceps stretch reflex could be elicited, and electrophysiological testing demonstrated a Hoffman reflex, or Hreflex, in the biceps muscle when the musculocutaneous nerve was stimulated. Functional MR imaging demonstrated sensory motor cortex activities on active as well as passive elbow flexion. Quantitative sensory testing and contact heat evoked potential stimulation did not detect any cutaneous sensory function, however. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this case represents the first time that spinal cord surgery could restore not only motor function but also proprioception completing a spinal reflex arch.

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Thomas Carlstedt, Praveen Anand, Rolf Hallin, Peter Vigay Misra, Georg Norén and Thanos Seferlis

Object. The authors review the first series of 10 cases in which injured intraspinal brachial plexus were surgically repaired. They describe the technique of spinal cord implantation or repair of ruptured nerve roots, as well as patient outcome.

Methods. Spinal root repair/implantation was performed from 10 days to 9 months postinjury. There were nine male patients and one female patient. Postoperatively in most cases, regeneration of motor neurons from the spinal cord to denervated muscles could be demonstrated. The first signs of regeneration were noted approximately 9 to 12 months postoperatively. Useful function with muscle power of at least Medical Research Council Grade 3 occurred in three of 10 cases. Magnetic brain stimulation studies revealed a normal amplitude and latency from the cortex to reinnervated muscles on surgically treated and control sides. A certain degree of cocontraction between antagonistic muscles (for example, biceps—triceps) compromised function. With time there was a reduction of cocontractions, probably due to spinal cord plasticity. In these cases there was also, surprisingly, a return of sensory function, although the mechanism by which this occurred is uncertain. Sensory stimulation (thermal and mechanical) within the avulsed dermatomes was perceived abnormally and/or experienced at remote sites. There was some return of patients' sense of joint position.

Conclusions. A short time lag between the accident and the surgery was recognized as a significant factor for a successful outcome. Reimplantation of avulsed nerve roots may be combined with other procedures such as nerve transfers in severe cases of brachial plexus injury.

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Thomas Carlstedt, Praveen Anand, Min Htut, Peter Misra and Mikael Svensson

This 9-year-old boy sustained a complete right-sided C5–T1 brachial plexus avulsion injury in a motorcycle accident. He underwent surgery 4 weeks after the accident. The motor-related nerve roots in all parts of the avulsed brachial plexus were reconnected to the spinal cord by reimplantation of peripheral nerve grafts. Recovery in the proximal part of the arm started 8 to 10 months later. Motor function was restored throughout the arm and also in the intrinsic muscles of the hand by 2 years postoperatively. The initial severe excruciating pain, typical after nerve root avulsions, disappeared completely with motor recovery. The authors observed good recruitment of regenerated motor units in all parts of the arm, but there were cocontractions. Transcranial magnetic stimulation produced response in all muscles, with prolonged latency and smaller amplitude compared with the intact side. There was inspiration-evoked muscle activity in proximal arm muscles—that is, the so-called “breathing arm” phenomenon. The issues of nerve regeneration after intraspinal reimplantation in a young individual, as well as plasticity and associated pain, are discussed.

To the best of the authors' knowledge, the present case demonstrates, for the first time, that spinal cord surgery can restore hand function after a complete brachial plexus avulsion injury.