Safety of brainstem safe entry zones: comparison of microsurgical outcomes associated with superficial, exophytic, and deep brainstem cavernous malformations

J Neurosurg 139:113–123, 2023

Safe entry zones (SEZs) enable safe tissue transgression to lesions beneath the brainstem surface. However, evidence for the safety of SEZs is scarce and is based on anatomical studies, case reports, and small series.

METHODS A cohort of 154 patients who underwent microsurgical brainstem cavernous malformation (BSCM) treatment during a 23-year period and who had preoperative MR images and intraoperative photographs or videos was retrospectively examined. This study assessed the safety of SEZs for access to deep BSCMs, preoperative MRI to predict BSCM surface proximity, and the relationships between BSCM subtype, surgical approach, and SEZs. Lesions were characterized as exophytic, superficial, or deep on the basis of preoperative MRI and intraoperative inspection. Outcomes were scored as good (modified Rankin Scale [mRS] score ≤ 2) or poor (mRS score > 2) and relative outcomes as stable/ improved or worse relative to baseline (± 1 point).

RESULTS Resections included 34 (22%) in the midbrain, 102 (66%) in the pons, and 18 (12%) in the medulla. Of those, 23 (15%) were exophytic, 57 (37%) were superficial, and 74 (48%) were deep. Established SEZs were used for 97% (n = 72) of deep lesions; the preferred SEZ associated with its subtype was used for 91% (n = 67). MR images accurately depicted exophytic BSCMs that did not require SEZ approaches (sensitivity, 96%) but overestimated the proximity of lesions superficial to brainstem surfaces (specificity, 67%), resulting in unanticipated SEZ use. Final neurological outcomes were good in 80% of patients with follow-up data (119/149), and relative outcomes were stable/improved in 93% (139/149). Outcomes for patients with brainstem transgression through an SEZ did not differ from outcomes for patients with superficial or exophytic lesions that did not require SEZ use (final mRS score ≤ 2 in 72% of all patients with deep lesions vs 82% of all patients with superficial or exophytic lesions [p = 0.10]). Among patients with follow-up, the rates of permanent new cranial nerve deficits in patients with deep BSCMs and superficial or exophytic BSCMs were 21% and 20%, respectively (p = 0.81), with no significant change in overall cranial nerve deficit (0 and −1, p = 0.65).

CONCLUSIONS Neurological outcomes for patients with deep BSCMs were equivalent to those for superficial or exophytic BSCMs, validating the safety of SEZs for deep BSCMs. Preoperative T1-weighted MR images overestimated the lesion’s surface proximity, necessitating detailed knowledge of SEZs and readiness to use them in cases of radiologicalmicrosurgical discordance. Most patients achieved favorable outcomes despite the transgression of eloquent brainstem tissue in and around SEZs.

Microsurgical anatomy and approaches around the lateral recess with special reference to entry into the pons

J Neurosurg 129:740–751, 2018

The lateral recess is a unique structure communicating between the ventricle and cistern, which is exposed when treating lesions involving the fourth ventricle and the brainstem with surgical approaches such as the transcerebellomedullary fissure approach. In this study, the authors examined the microsurgical anatomy around the lateral recess, including the fiber tracts, and analyzed their findings with respect to surgical exposure of the lateral recess and entry into the lower pons.

METHODS Ten cadaveric heads were examined with microsurgical techniques, and 2 heads were examined with fiber dissection to clarify the anatomy between the lateral recess and adjacent structures. The lateral and medial routes directed to the lateral recess in the transcerebellomedullary fissure approach were demonstrated. A morphometric study was conducted in the 10 cadaveric heads (20 sides).

RESULTS The lateral recess was classified into medullary and cisternal segments. The medial and lateral routes in the transcerebellomedullary fissure approach provided access to approximately 140°–150° of the posteroinferior circumference of the lateral recess. The floccular peduncle ran rostral to the lateral recess, and this region was considered to be a potential safe entry zone to the lower pons. By appropriately selecting either route, medial-to-lateral or lateral-to-medial entry axis is possible, and combining both routes provided wide exposure of the lower pons around the lateral recess.

CONCLUSIONS The medial and lateral routes of the transcerebellomedullary fissure approach provided wide exposure of the lateral recess, and incision around the floccular peduncle is a potential new safe entry zone to the lower pons.


The superior fovea triangle approach: a novel safe entry zone to the brainstem

J Neurosurg 127:1134–1138, 2017

The authors describe a safe entry zone, the superior fovea triangle, on the floor of the fourth ventricle for resection of deep dorsal pontine lesions at the level of the facial colliculus.

Clinical data from a patient undergoing a suboccipital telovelar transsuperior fovea triangle approach to a deep pontine cavernous malformation were reviewed and supplemented with 6 formalin-fixed adult human brainstem and 2 silicone-injected adult human cadaveric heads using the fiber dissection technique to illustrate the utility of this novel safe entry zone.

The superior fovea has a triangular shape that is an important landmark for the motor nucleus of the trigeminal, abducens, and facial nerves. The inferior half of the superior fovea triangle may be incised to remove deep dorsal pontine lesions through the floor of the fourth ventricle.

The superior fovea triangle may be used as a safe entry zone for dorsally located lesions at the level of the facial colliculus.

Microsurgical anatomy and internal architecture of the brainstem

Microsurgical anatomy and internal architecture of the brainstem in 3D images

J Neurosurg 124:1377–1395, 2016

Brainstem surgery remains a challenge for the neurosurgeon despite recent improvements in neuroimaging, microsurgical techniques, and electrophysiological monitoring. A detailed knowledge of the microsurgical anatomy of the brainstem surface and its internal architecture is mandatory to plan appropriate approaches to the brainstem, to choose the safest point of entry, and to avoid potential surgical complications.

Methods: An extensive review of the literature was performed regarding the brainstem surgical approaches, and their correlations with the pertinent anatomy were studied and illustrated through dissection of human brainstems properly fixed with 10% formalin. The specimens were dissected using the fiber dissection technique, under ×6 to ×40 magnification. 3D stereoscopic photographs were obtained (anaglyphic 3D) for better illustration of this study.

Results: The main surgical landmarks and their relationship with the cerebellum and vascular structures were identified on the surface of the brainstem. The arrangements of the white matter (ascending and descending pathways as well as the cerebellar peduncles) were demonstrated on each part of the brainstem (midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata), with emphasis on their relationships with the surface. The gray matter, constituted mainly by nuclei of the cranial nerves, was also studied and illustrated.

Conclusions: The objective of this article is to review the microsurgical anatomy and the surgical approaches pertinent to the brainstem, providing a framework of its external and internal architecture to guide the neurosurgeon during its related surgical procedures.