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Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 2007 Jan;116(1):57-65.

Spontaneous laryngeal reinnervation after recurrent laryngeal or vagus nerve injury.

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Division of Otolaryngology, Southern Illinois University, Springfield, Illinois, USA.



The status of innervation in patients with laryngeal paralysis is somewhat controversial. Electromyographic activity has been frequently documented in the laryngeal muscles of patients with laryngeal paralysis, and animal experiments report a strong propensity for reinnervation after laryngeal nerve injury. However, a study of intraoperative electromyography performed in patients during reinnervation surgery failed to document activity with stimulation of the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN). Noting the long-observed differences in the symptoms of patients with vagus nerve injury and those with RLN injury, I hypothesized that reinnervation is influenced by the site of nerve injury.


Cats were sacrificed at various intervals after resection of 1 cm of either the RLN or the vagus nerve, without any attempt to repair the nerve.


Four months after RLN resection, distal nerve biopsy revealed unmyelinated axons scattered through fibrous tissue. By 6 months, myelinated axons were organized, and electromyographic and histologic examination showed preferential reinnervation of the thyroarytenoid muscle. After vagotomy, the RLN was fibrotic and no axons were present. Both the thyroarytenoid and posterior cricoarytenoid muscles were fibrotic and had no electromyographic activity.


The results confirm the strong propensity for laryngeal reinnervation after RLN injury, but not after vagus nerve injury. Preferential reinnervation of adductor muscles may account for a medial position of the paralyzed vocal fold.

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