Investigation of unilateral facial weakness: magnetic stimulation of the proximal facial nerve and of the face-associated motor cortex

B U Meyer, T C Britton, R Benecke
Journal of Neurology 1989, 236 (2): 102-7
Twenty-four patients with unilateral facial weakness of various aetiologies were investigated using a magnetic stimulator to stimulate the proximal segment of the facial nerve directly (short latency response) and also to activate the facial motoneurons bilaterally via corticonuclear pathways by placing the stimulating coil over the motor cortex (long latency responses). Electromyographic recordings were taken from both mentalis muscles using concentric needle electrodes. Seventeen patients were investigated at various times after onset of idiopathic facial palsy (Bell's palsy). In the acute stage (less than 5 days after onset) short and long latency responses on the paretic side were abnormal, being absent in all but one patient, in whom the short latency response was delayed. These abnormal responses were the earliest neurographic correlate for nerve conduction block. In 4 out of 9 patients seen up to 30 days after onset of palsy, trans-synaptically evoked long latency responses were absent. In patients examined more than 2 months after onset, long latency responses could always be obtained and, in 5 of 8 patients, short latency responses could also be elicited, indicating a return of the direct excitability of the nerve. Five patients with cerebral hemisphere lesions causing mild unilateral facial weakness had absent long latency responses when stimulating over the affected hemisphere, but normal bilateral long latency responses following stimulation over the unaffected cerebral hemisphere; short latency responses were normal. Magnetic stimulation of the brain and of the facial nerve can differentiate between central and peripheral causes of unilateral facial weakness and may prove useful in the early assessment of the degree of conduction block in Bell's palsy.

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