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Pediatr Neurol. 1990 Jul-Aug;6(4):233-9.

Anencephaly: clinical determination of brain death and neuropathologic studies.

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  • 1Department of Pediatrics, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, California 92350.


Twelve liveborn anencephalic infants were serially examined to determine if they would meet our clinical criteria for whole brain death within a 7-day period: Protocol 1 infants (6) received intensive care including intubation from birth; and Protocol 2 infants (6) received intensive care during the period in which death was imminent. Brain death was determined by absence of brainstem function, including loss of all cranial nerve responses and sustained apnea (PCO2 greater than 60 torr) for 48 hours with confirmation of findings by an outside consulting child neurologist. The initial examinations of these 12 infants revealed spontaneous movements and startle myoclonus (12), suck, root, and gag responses (7), increased tone (8), deep tendon reflexes (9), absent pupillary responses (9), absent oculocephalic and corneal responses (6), absent auditory/Moro responses (7), and nonvisualization of the optic nerve (8). Mild depression of neurologic function occurred during the first several days of life; subsequently, the infants' responses were easier to elicit and more sustained. Only 2 infants met the clinical criteria for brain death. Neuropathologic findings indicated that observed complex motor responses were not based upon cortical activity because no infant had a normally-formed cerebrum. Brainstem neuronal activity may have accounted for these motor responses in some patients but even at this level neurons were scanty or absent. Our findings suggest that, although rare, clinical brain death can be determined in liveborn anencephalic infants; ophthalmologic and otologic developmental abnormalities may confound examination of cranial nerve function; and absence of cortical neurons supports the widely held opinion that these infants do not experience sensation.

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