Gamma Knife radiosurgery for trigeminal neuralgia: the impact of magnetic resonance imaging–detected vascular impingement of the affected nerve

J Neurosurg 113:53–58, 2010. (DOI: 10.3171/2009.9.JNS09196)

Trigeminal neuralgia is believed to be related to vascular compression of the affected nerve. Radiosurgery has been shown to be reasonably effective for treatment of medically refractory trigeminal neuralgia. This study explores the rate of occurrence of MR imaging–demonstrated vascular impingement of the affected nerve and the extent to which vascular impingement affects pain relief in a population of trigeminal neuralgia patients undergoing Gamma Knife radiosurgery (GKRS).

Methods. The authors performed a retrospective analysis of 106 cases involving patients treated for typical trigeminal neuralgia using GKRS. Patients with or without single-vessel impingement on CISS MR imaging sequences and with no previous surgery were included in the study. Pain relief was assessed according to the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI) pain intensity score at the last follow-up. Degree of impingement, nerve diameter preand post-impingement, isocenter placement, and dose to the point of maximum impingement were evaluated in relation to the improvement of BNI score.

Results. The overall median follow-up period was 31 months. Overall, a BNI pain score of 1 was achieved in 59.4% of patients at last follow-up. Vessel impingement was seen in 63 patients (59%). There was no significant difference in pain relief between those with and without vascular impingement following GKRS (p > 0.05). In those with vascular impingement on MR imaging, the median fraction of vessel impingement was 0.3 (range 0.04–0.59). The median dose to the site of maximum impingement was 42 Gy (range 2.9–79 Gy). Increased dose (p = 0.019) and closer proximity of the isocenter to the site of maximum vessel impingement (p = 0.012) correlated in a statistically significant fashion with improved BNI scores in those demonstrating vascular impingement on the GKRS planning MR imaging

Conclusions. Vascular impingement of the affected nerve was seen in the majority of patients with trigeminal neuralgia. Overall pain relief following GKRS was comparable in those with and without evidence of vascular compression on MR imaging. In subgroup analysis of those with MR imaging evidence of vessel impingement of the affected trigeminal nerve, pain relief correlated with a higher dose to the point of contact between the impinging vessel and the trigeminal nerve. Such a finding may point to vascular changes affording at least some degree of relief following GKRS for trigeminal neuralgia.