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Nasser Mohammed, Yi-Chieh Hung, Thomas J. Eluvathingal Muttikkal, Roy C. Bliley, Zhiyuan Xu and Jason P. Sheehan


The motor root of the trigeminal nerve runs close to the sensory root and receives considerable radiation during Gamma Knife radiosurgery (GKRS) for trigeminal neuralgia (TN). The object of this study was to evaluate via MRI the changes in the muscles of mastication before and after upfront GKRS in patients with idiopathic TN.


In this single-institution retrospective cohort study, all patients with idiopathic unilateral TN treated with primary GKRS at the University of Virginia in the period from 2007 to 2017 were included provided that they had pre- and post-GKRS MRI data. The thicknesses of the temporalis, pterygoid, and masseter muscles were measured on both pre- and post-GKRS MRI in a blinded fashion. Changes in the muscles like fatty infiltration, MRI signal, or atrophy were noted.


Among the 68 patients eligible for inclusion in the study, 136 temporalis muscles, 136 medial pterygoid muscles, 136 lateral pterygoid muscles, and 136 masseter muscles were assessed. A subset of patients was found to have muscle atrophy even prior to GKRS. Pre-GKRS atrophy of the masseter, medial pterygoid, lateral pterygoid, and temporalis muscles was seen in 18 (26%), 16 (24%), 9 (13%), and 16 (24%) patients, respectively. Logistic regression analysis showed that distribution of pain in the V3 territory (p = 0.01, OR 5.43, 95% CI 1.46–20.12) and significant pain on chewing (p = 0.02, OR 5.32, 95% CI 1.25–22.48) were predictive of pre-GKRS atrophy. Reversal of atrophy of these muscles occurred after GKRS in a majority of the patients. The incidence of new-onset permanent post-GKRS muscle atrophy was 1.5%. The median follow-up was 39 months (range 6–108 months).


A subset of patients with TN with significant pain on chewing have pre-GKRS disuse atrophy of the muscles of mastication. A reversal of the atrophy occurs in a majority of the patients following GKRS. New-onset motor neuropathy post-GKRS was rare.