Key anatomical landmarks for middle fossa surgery: a surgical anatomy study

J Neurosurg 131:1561–1570, 2019

Middle fossa surgery is challenging, and reliable surgical landmarks are essential to perform accurate and safe surgery. Although many descriptions of the middle fossa components have been published, a clinically practical description of this very complex anatomical region is lacking. Small structure arrangements in this area are often not well visualized or accurately demarcated with neuronavigation systems. The objective is to describe a “roadmap” of key surgical reference points and landmarks during middle fossa surgery to help the surgeon predict where critical structures will be located.

METHODS The authors studied 40 dry skulls (80 sides) obtained from the anatomical board at their institution. Measurements of anatomical structures in the middle fossa were made with a digital caliper and a protractor, taking as reference the middle point of the external auditory canal (MEAC). The results were statistically analyzed.

RESULTS The petrous part of the temporal bone was found at a mean of 16 mm anterior and 24 mm posterior to the MEAC. In 87% and 99% of the sides, the foramen ovale and foramen spinosum, respectively, were encountered deep to the zygomatic root. The posterior aspect of the greater superficial petrosal nerve (GSPN) groove was a mean of 6 mm anterior and 25 mm medial to the MEAC, nearly parallel to the petrous ridge. The main axis of the IAC projected to the root of the zygoma in all cases. The internal auditory canal (IAC) porus was found 5.5 mm lateral and 4.5 mm deep to the lateral aspect of the trigeminal impression along the petrous ridge (mean measurement values). A projection from this point to the middle aspect of the root of the zygoma, being posterior to the GSPN groove, could estimate the orientation of the IAC.

CONCLUSIONS In middle fossa approaches, the external acoustic canal is a reliable reference before skin incision, whereas the zygomatic root becomes important after the skin incision. Deep structures can be related to these 2 anatomical structures. An easy method to predict the location of the IAC in surgery is described. Careful study of the preoperative imaging is essential to adapt this knowledge to the individual anatomy of the patient.