OBJECTIVE: To study the microanatomy of the brainstem related to the different safe entry zones used to approach intrinsic brainstem lesions.
METHODS: Ten formalin-fixed and frozen brainstem specimens (20 sides) were analyzed. The white fiber dissection technique was used to study the intrinsic microsurgical anatomy as related to safe entry zones on the brainstem surface. Three anatomic landmarks on the anterolateral brainstem surface were selected: lateral mesencephalic sulcus, peritrigeminal area, and olivary body. Ten other specimens were used to study the axial sections of the inferior olivary nucleus. The clinical application of these anatomic nuances is presented.
RESULTS: The lateral mesencephalic sulcus has a length of 7.4 to 13.3 mm (mean, 9.6 mm) and can be dissected safely in depths up to 4.9 to 11.7 mm (mean, 8.02 mm). In the peritrigeminal area, the distance of the fifth cranial nerve to the pyramidal tract is 3.1 to 5.7 mm (mean, 4.64 mm). The dissection may be performed 9.5 to 13.1 mm (mean, 11.2 mm) deeper, to the nucleus of the fifth cranial nerve. The inferior olivary nucleus provides safe access to lesions located up to 4.7 to 6.9 mm (mean, 5.52 mm) in the anterolateral aspect of the medulla. Clinical results confirm that these entry zones constitute surgical routes through which the brainstem may be safely approached.
CONCLUSION: The white fiber dissection technique is a valuable tool for understanding the three-dimensional disposition of the anatomic structures. The lateral mesencephalic sulcus, the peritrigeminal area, and the inferior olivary nucleus provide surgical spaces and delineate the relatively safe alleys where the brainstem can be approached without injuring important neural structures.