Unexpected neuropsychological improvement after cranioplasty: A case series study

Cristina Di Stefano, Carmelo Sturiale, Piera Trentini, Roberta Bonora, Domenico Rossi, Giuliana Cervigni, Roberto Piperno

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective. Decompressive craniectomy is often emergently performed in an effort to reduce intracranial hypertension. After this urgent intervention, brain-injured patients often start rehabilitation programs but are left with a skull defect. Cranioplasty is often performed in these situations in order to repair this defect, mainly for cosmetic reasons and/or the patient's safety. The possible effects of this breach on the patients' neurological recovery are poorly understood and have been scarcely evaluated until now. The effect of cranioplasty on cognitive and motor functions in severely brain-injured individuals remains controversial. Methods and procedures. In order to further support evidence of the beneficial effects of cranioplasty on motor and cognitive function in severely brain-injured individuals, we discuss four cases, retrospectively selected among a cohort of several patients who underwent decompressive craniectomy after severe brain injury. The selected patients presented a biphasic pattern of recovery of cognitive and motor performance consisting of an initial improvement, followed by a progressive worsening of neurological signs and symptoms, and, ultimately, an unexpected recovery of function following cranioplasty. Main outcomes and results. In all four cases, we found a deterioration of motor and neuropsychological deficits prior to cranioplasty and a subsequent unexpected improvement in performance on a neuropsychological battery and a series of motor function tests immediately after cranioplasty. Conclusions. Results give clear evidence that a subset of patients are negatively affected by the persistence of a breach in skull integrity during the rehabilitation phase of brain injury. Moreover, they show that the repair of the cranial defect can trigger relevant neurological improvement in both motor and cognitive domains. This possibility should serve as a reminder to rehabilitation clinicians to give serious consideration to prompt performance of cranioplasty during the time allotted for the rehabilitation of these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)827-831
Number of pages5
JournalBritish Journal of Neurosurgery
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012


  • Cognitive improvement
  • Cranioplasty
  • Neuropsychological outcome after cranioplasty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery


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