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Research paper
Intraoperative identification of the corticospinal tract and dorsal column of the spinal cord by electrical stimulation
  1. Vedran Deletis1,2,
  2. Kathleen Seidel3,
  3. Francesco Sala4,
  4. Andreas Raabe3,
  5. Darko Chudy2,
  6. Juergen Beck3,
  7. Karl F Kothbauer5
  1. 1 Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, New York, USA
  2. 2 Department of Neurosurgery, University Hospital Dubrava, Zagreb, Croatia
  3. 3 Department of Neurosurgery, Inselspital, Bern University Hospital, Bern, Switzerland
  4. 4 Section of Neurosurgery, Department of Neurosciences, Biomedicine and Movement Sciences, University of Verona, Verona, Italy
  5. 5 Department of Neurosurgery, Cantonal Hospital of Lucerne, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kathleen Seidel, Department of Neurosurgery Inselspital, Bern University Hospital, Bern 3010, Switzerland; kathleen.seidel{at}


Objectives Anatomical identification of the corticospinal tract (CT) and the dorsal column (DC) of the exposed spinal cord is difficult when anatomical landmarks are distorted by tumour growth. Neurophysiological identification is complicated by the fact that direct stimulation of the DC may result in muscle motor responses due to the centrally activated H-reflex. This study aims to provide a technique for intraoperative neurophysiological differentiation between CT and DC in the exposed spinal cord.

Methods Recordings were obtained from 32 consecutive patients undergoing spinal cord tumour surgery from July 2015 to March 2017. A double train stimulation paradigm with an intertrain interval of 60 ms was devised with recording of responses from limb muscles.

Results In non-spastic patients (55% of cohort) an identical second response was noted following the first CT response, but the second response was absent after DC stimulation. In patients with pre-existing spasticity (45%), CT stimulation again resulted in two identical responses, whereas DC stimulation generated a second response that differed substantially from the first one. The recovery times of interneurons in the spinal cord grey matter were much shorter for the CT than those for the DC. Therefore, when a second stimulus train was applied 60 ms after the first, the CT-fibre interneurons had already recovered ready to generate a second response, whereas the DC interneurons were still in the refractory period.

Conclusions Mapping of the spinal cord using double train stimulation allows neurophysiological distinction of CT from DC pathways during spinal cord surgery in patients with and without pre-existing spasticity.

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  • VD and KS contributed equally.

  • Contributors VD and KS are sharing the first authorship and contributed equally to this manuscript. Conception and design: VD, KS. Acquisition of data: KS, KFK, AR, JB, DC. Analysis and interpretation of data: VD, KS, FS, KFK. Drafting the article: KS, VD, FS, KFK. Reviewed the submitted version of the manuscript: all authors.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval This study was approved by the local ethics committee (Kantonale Ethikkommission, Bern, Switzerland KEK 2017-00123).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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