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Expanding the reach of the trans-middle cerebellar peduncle approach: pontine cavernous malformations, tissue transgression beyond the safe entry zone, and the invisible triangle.

Journal of Neurosurgery 2023 November 18
OBJECTIVE: In the authors' microsurgical experience, the trans-middle cerebellar peduncle (MCP) approach to the lateral and central pons has been the most common approach to brainstem cavernous malformations (BSCMs). This approach through a well-tolerated safe entry zone (SEZ) allows a wide vertical or posterior trajectory, reaching pontine lesions extending into the midbrain, medulla, and pontine tegmentum. Better understanding of the relationships among lesion location, surgical trajectory, and long-term clinical outcomes could determine areas of safe passage.

METHODS: A single-surgeon cohort study of all primary trans-MCP BSCM resections was conducted from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2021. Preoperative and postoperative MR images were independently reviewed by 3 investigators blinded to the intervention, using a standardized rubric to define BSCM regions of interest (ROIs) involved with a lesion or microsurgical tract. Statistical testing, including the chi-square test with the Bonferroni correction, logistic regression, and structural equation modeling, was performed to analyze relationships between ROIs and clinical outcomes.

RESULTS: Thirty-one patients underwent primary trans-MCP BSCM resection during the study period. The median age was 50 years (IQR 24-49 years); 19 (61%) patients were female, and 12 (39%) were male. Seven (23%) patients had familial cavernous malformation syndromes. The median follow-up was 9 months (range 6-37 months). At the last follow-up, composite neurological outcomes were favorable: 22 (71%) patients had 0 (n = 12, 39%) or 1 (n = 10, 32%) major persistent deficit, 5 patients (16%) had 2 deficits, 2 (7%) had 3 deficits, and 1 patient each (3%) had 4 or 6 deficits. Unfavorable composite outcomes were significantly associated with lesions (OR 7.14, p = 0.04) or surgical tracts (OR 12.18, p < 0.001) extending from the superior cerebellar peduncle (SCP) into the contralateral medial midbrain. The ipsilateral dorsal pons was the most frequently implicated ROI involving a surgical tract and the development of new postoperative deficits. This region involved the rhomboid pontine territory and transgression of the pontine tegmentum (OR 7.53, p < 0.001). Structural equation modeling supported medial midbrain and pontine tegmentum transgression as the primary drivers of morbidity.

CONCLUSIONS: Trans-MCP resection is a safe and effective treatment for BSCMs, including lesions with marked superior or inferior ipsilateral extension. Two trajectories are associated with increased neurological risk: first, a superomedial trajectory to lesions extending into the midbrain that transgresses the SCP, its decussation, or both; and second, a posteromedial trajectory to lesions extending into the pontine tegmentum. The corticospinal tract, SCP, and pontine tegmentum form an invisible triangle within the pontine white matter tolerant of transgression. When the surgeon works within this triangle, most deep pontine BSCMs, including large lesions, those with contralateral or posterior extension, and others extending into the midbrain and medulla, can be resected safely with the trans-MCP approach.

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