Stereotactic biopsies of brainstem lesions: which approach?

Acta Neurochirurgica (2021) 163:1957–1964

Stereotactic biopsies for brainstem lesions are frequently performed to yield an accurate diagnosis and help guide subsequent management. In this study, we summarize our experience with different stereotactic approaches to brainstem lesions of different locations and discuss possible implications for safety and diagnostic yield.

Methods We retrospectively analyzed 23 adult patients who underwent a stereotactic biopsy for brainstem lesions between October 2011 and December 2019. Depending on the location supra- or infratentorial, trajectories were planned. We assessed the postoperative complications during the hospital stay as well as the diagnostic yield.

Results A supratentorial transfrontal approach was used in 16 (70%) cases, predominantly for lesions in the midbrain, upper pons, and medulla oblongata. An infratentorial, transcerebellar-transpeduncular approach was used in 7 (30%) cases mainly for lesions within the lower pons. All biopsies were confirmed to represent pathological tissue and a definitive diagnosis was achieved in 21 cases (91%). Three patients (13%) had transient weakness in the contralateral part of the body in the immediate postoperative period, which improved spontaneously. There was no permanent morbidity or mortality in this series of patients.

Conclusion Lesions of various locations within the brainstem can be successfully targeted via either a supratentorial transfrontal or an infratentorial transcerebellar transpeduncular approach. Our high diagnostic yield of over 90% and the low rate of complications underlines the diagnostic importance of this procedure in order to guide the medical management of these patients.