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Transnasal Odontoid Resection: Is There An Anatomic Explanation For Differing Swallowing Outcomes?

Kathryn M Van Abel, Grant W. Mallory, J. Kasperbauer, M. D., E. Moore, D. Price, E. O'Brien, K. D. Olsen, W. Krauss, M. Clarke, M. Jentoft, J. V. Van Gompel
Published 2014 · Medicine

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OBJECT Swallowing dysfunction is common following transoral (TO) odontoidectomy. Preliminary experience with newer endoscopic transnasal (TN) approaches suggests that dysphagia may be reduced with this alternative. However, the reasons for this are unclear. The authors hypothesized that the TN approach results in less disruption of the pharyngeal plexus and anatomical structures associated with swallowing. The authors investigate the histological and gross surgical anatomical relationship between pharyngeal plexus innervation of the upper aerodigestive tract and the surgical approaches used (TN and TO). They also review the TN literature to evaluate swallowing outcomes following this approach. METHODS Seven cadaveric specimens were used for histological (n = 3) and gross anatomical (n = 4) examination of the pharyngeal plexus with the TO and TN surgical approaches. Particular attention was given to identifying the location of cranial nerves (CNs) IX and X and the sympathetic chain and their contributions to the pharyngeal plexus. S100 staining was performed to assess for the presence of neural tissue in proximity to the midline, and fiber density counts were performed within 1 cm of midline. The relationship between the pharyngeal plexus, clivus, and upper cervical spine (C1-3) was defined. RESULTS Histological analysis revealed the presence of pharyngeal plexus fibers in the midline and a significant reduction in paramedian fiber density from C-2 to the lower clivus (p < 0.001). None of these paramedian fibers, however, could be visualized with gross inspection or layer-by-layer dissection. Laterally based primary pharyngeal plexus nerves were identified by tracing their origins from CNs IX and X and the sympathetic chain at the skull base and following them to the pharyngeal musculature. In addition, the authors found 15 studies presenting 52 patients undergoing TN odontoidectomy. Of these patients, only 48 had been swallowing preoperatively. When looking only at this population, 83% (40 of 48) were swallowing by Day 3 and 92% (44 of 48) were swallowing by Day 7. CONCLUSIONS Despite the midline approach, both TO and TN approaches may injure a portion of the pharyngeal plexus. By limiting the TN incision to above the palatal plane, the surgeon avoids the high-density neural plexus found in the oropharyngeal wall and limits injury to oropharyngeal musculature involved in swallowing. This may explain the decreased incidence of postoperative dysphagia seen in TN approaches. However, further clinical investigation is warranted.
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