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Is the Root Entry/Exit Zone Important in Microvascular Compression Syndromes?

De Ridder, Dirk M.D.; Møller, Aage Ph.D.; Verlooy, Jan M.D., Ph.D.; Cornelissen, Maria Ph.D.; De Ridder, Leo M.D., Ph.D.

Surgical Technique

OBJECTIVE : Microvascular compression syndromes such as trigeminal neuralgia, hemifacial spasm, and disabling positional vertigo involve an artery or vein compressing a cranial nerve. A cranial nerve is composed of a central nervous system (CNS) segment and a peripheral nervous system (PNS) segment separated by the root entry/exit zone (REZ). Although vascular compression can occur at any point along the cranial nerve, it has been generally assumed that only vascular contact at the REZ of the affected cranial nerve can cause symptoms. On the basis of personal surgical experience, we propose that vascular compression of the CNS segment alone causes symptoms. This has important repercussions for the future diagnosis and treatment of microvascular compression syndromes, especially the cochleovestibular compression syndrome.

METHODS : For the anatomic study, four autopsy specimens and one surgical biopsy specimen of the vestibulocochlear nerve were microscopically and ultramicroscopically analyzed for structural differences between the CNS and PNS segments. For the clinical study, five patients with the clinical picture of cochleovestibular compression syndrome were treated by microsurgical decompression at the level of the CNS segment and not the REZ. One patient underwent reoperation for recurrent symptoms 4 years later, and a 4-mm vestibular neurectomy was performed at that stage. We performed an epidemiological analysis to demonstrate that the known incidences of trigeminal neuralgia, hemifacial spasm, and glossopharyngeal neuralgia are related to the length of their respective CNS segments.

RESULTS : Histological differences between the PNS and CNS segments suggest that the PNS segment is more resistant to compression. This was confirmed by neurophysiological data from intraoperative monitoring in posterior fossa surgery and experimental studies. We found a clear epidemiological correlation between the length of the CNS segment, which differed among cranial nerves, and the incidence of the microvascular compression syndrome. Successful decompression of the CNS segment in patients without compression at the REZ of the vestibulocochlear nerve for disabling positional vertigo provides clinical support for this hypothesis.

CONCLUSION : The evidence we present supports the hypothesis that vascular compression syndromes arise from vascular contact along the CNS segment of the cranial nerves.

Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

Callier Center for Communication Disorders, University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, Texas

Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium

Department of Histology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

Department of Histology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

Reprint requests:

Dirk De Ridder, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Antwerp, Wilrijkstraat 10, 2650 Edegem, Belgium.

Email: dirk.de.ridder@uza.be

Received, August 8, 2001.

Accepted, March 27, 2002.

Copyright © by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons