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Neurosurgery. 2009 Oct;65(4 Suppl):A153-9. doi: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000338429.66249.7D.

Electromyography, nerve action potential, and compound motor action potentials in obstetric brachial plexus lesions: validation in the absence of a "gold standard".

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Department of Neurosurgery, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, The Netherlands.



Obstetric brachial plexus lesions (OBPLs) are caused by traction to the brachial plexus during labor. Typically, in these lesions, the nerves are usually not completely ruptured but form a "neuroma-in-continuity." Even in the most severe OBPL lesions, at least some axons will pass through this neuroma-in-continuity and reach the tubes distal to the lesion site. These axons may be particularly prone to abnormal branching and misrouting, which may explain the typical feature of co-contraction. An additional factor that may reduce functional regeneration is that improper central motor programming may occur. Surgery should be restricted to severe cases in which spontaneous restoration of function will not occur, i.e., in neurotmesis or root avulsions. A major problem is how to predict whether function will be best after spontaneous nerve outgrowth or after nerve reconstructive surgery. When a decision has been made to perform an early surgical exploration, what to do with the neuroma-in-continuity can be a problem. The intraoperative appraisal is difficult and depends on experience, but even in experienced hands, misjudgment can be made.


We performed an observational study to assess whether early electromyography (at the age of 1 month) is able to predict severe lesions. Additionally, the value of intraoperative nerve action potential and compound motor action potentials was investigated.


Severe cases of OBPL can be identified at 1 month of age on the basis of clinical findings and needle electromyography of the biceps. This outcome needs independent validation, which is currently in progress. Nerve action potential and compound motor action potential recordings show statistically significant differences on the group level between avulsion, neurotmesis, axonotmesis, and normal. For the individual patient, a clinically useful cutoff point could not be found. Intraoperative nerve action potential and compound motor action potential recordings do not add to the decision making during surgery.


The absence of a "gold standard" for the assessment of the severity of the OBPL lesion makes prognostic studies of OBPL complex. The currently available assessment strategies used to obtain the best possible solutions are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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