Monitoring of motor pathways during brain stem surgery: What we have achieved and what we still miss?

F. Sala, P. Manganotti, V. Tramontano, A. Bricolo, M. Gerosa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring (IOM) has established itself as one of the paths by which modern neurosurgery can improve surgical results while minimizing morbidity. IOM consists of both monitoring (continuous "on-line" assessment of the functional integrity of neural pathways) and mapping (functional identification and preservation of anatomically ambiguous nervous tissue) techniques. In posterior-fossa and brainstem surgery, mapping techniques can be used to identify - and therefore preserve - cranial nerves, their motor nuclei and corticospinal or corticobulbar pathways. Similarly, free-running electromyography (EMG) and muscle motor-evoked potential (mMEP) monitoring can continuously assess the functional integrity of these pathways during surgery. Mapping of the corticospinal tract, at the level of the cerebral peduncle as well as mapping of the VII, IX-X and XII cranial nerve motor nuclei on the floor of the fourth ventricle, is of great value to identify "safe entry-zones" into the brainstem. Mapping techniques allow recognizing anatomical landmarks such as the facial colliculus, the hypoglosseal and glossopharyngeal triangles on the floor of the fourth ventricle, even when normal anatomy is distorted by a tumor. On the basis of neurophysiological mapping, specific patterns of motor cranial nuclei displacement can be recognized. However, brainstem mapping cannot detect injury to the supranuclear tracts originating in the motor cortex and ending on the cranial nerve motor nuclei. Therefore, monitoring techniques should be used. Standard techniques for continuously assessing the functional integrity of motor cranial nerves traditionally rely on the evaluation of spontaneous free-running EMG in muscles innervated by motor cranial nerves. Although several criteria have been proposed to identify those EMG activity patterns that are suspicious for nerve injury, the terminology remains somewhat confusing and convincing data regarding a clinical correlation between EMG activity and clinical outcome are still lacking. Transcranial mMEPs are also currently used during posterior-fossa surgery and principles of MEP monitoring to assess the functional integrity of motor pathways are similar to those used in brain and spinal-cord surgery. Recently, current concepts in muscle MEP monitoring have been extended to the monitoring of motor cranial nerves. So-called "corticobulbar mMEPs" can be used to monitor the functional integrity of corticobulbar tracts from the cortex through the cranial motor nuclei and to the muscle innervated by cranial nerves. Methodology for this purpose has appeared in the literature only recently and mostly with regards to the VII cranial nerve monitoring. Nevertheless, this technique has not yet been standardized and some limitations still exist. In particular, with regards to the preservation of the swallowing and coughing reflexes, available intraoperative techniques are insufficient to provide reliable prognostic data since only the efferent arc of the reflex can be tested.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)399-406
Number of pages8
JournalNeurophysiologie Clinique / Clinical Neurophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007


  • Brain mapping
  • Cranial nerves
  • Intraoperative monitoring
  • Motor-evoked potentials
  • Motricity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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