There is a high incidence of paraplegia associated with thoracic aortic cross-clamping, even when cardiopulmonary bypass or shunts are used. In 56 adult baboons, spinal cord blood flow (SCBF), vascular anatomy, and paraplegia rates were evaluated. Tissue blood flow was measured by radioactive microspheres. Various procedures were used to increase SCBF and to prevent ischemia-reperfusion injury. It was found that the rate of paraplegia was inversely correlated with neural tissue ischemia (SCBF) and directly correlated with reperfusion hyperemia. Two methods completely prevented paraplegia. These two methods were a thoracic shunt with occlusion of the infrarcnal aorta or cerebrospinal fluid drainage plus intrathecal papaverine injection, both of which were associated with an increased SCBF. Furthermore, papaverine dilated the anterior spinal artery (ASA) (p = 0.007) and increased the blood flow through the lower ASA. Whereas procedures utilizing a calcium channel blocker (flunarizine), allopurinol, superoxide dismutase (SOD), laminectomy alone, and a thoracoabdominal shunt not perfusing the arteria radicularis magna (ARM) all failed to prevent paraplegia, allopurinol (p = 0.026) and SOD (p = 0.004) did prevent gastric stress lesions, indicating that their failure to prevent paraplegia was not due to a lack of activity. Of great clinical interest is that, if a shunt is used and the ARM is perfused, infrarenal aortic cross-clamping increases SCBF, thus preventing paraplegia. Intrathecal application of papaverine proved to be even more effective in increasing SCBF and also completely prevented paraplegia. As this is a safer procedure than the insertion of shunts, this is the method of choice for the prevention of paraplegia associated with thoracic aortic cross-clamping. The preliminary trial using intrathecal papaverine in human beings has thus far shown no adverse side effects from the drug, and no paraplegia has occurred.
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