Introduction An open neural tube defect (ONTD) features an exposed, unclosed neural plate in the form of an expanded, flat, and frequently hefty neural placode. Traditional philosophy of ONTD repair aims at preserving function at any cost, which often means stuffing the entire thick and unwieldy but non-functional placode into a tight dural sac, increasing the likelihood of future tethering of the spinal cord. The same philosophy of attempting to save the whole perimetry of the placode also sometimes leads to inadvertent inclusion of parts of the squamous epithelial membrane surrounding the placode into the reconstructed product, only to form inclusion dermoid cyst causing further injury to the neural tissues. Lastly, defective closure of the caudal primary neural tube usually results in abolition of secondary and junctional neurulation, leaving a defective conus and sacral nerve roots, clinically presenting in most cases with neurogenic bladder and bowel dysfunction. Preserving this trapped but locally active sacral micturition center, isolated from suprasegmental inhibitory moderation, leads to a spastic, hyperactive, low compliance, and high-pressure bladder predisposing to upstream kidney damage, without benefits of normal bladder function. Method and material We report the post-natal surgical treatment of 8 newborn infants with ONTD, in which we resected the non-functional portion of the neural placode identified as such by direct spinal cord/placode and nerve root stimulation, as well as by transcortical evoked motor responses to check for suprasegmental corticospinal connectivity. Any part of the placode without local function or upstream connections was resected, and the small caudal spinal cord stump closed with pia-to-pia microsutures. The patients were followed for pre- and post-operative neuro-urological status and with serial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at 3 weeks, 6 months, and 2 years post-repair. Follow-up period ranged from birth to 3 years (mean of 24 months). Results Of the 8 patients analyzed, 7 had a terminal and one a segmental ONTD. Pre-operative neurological level ranged from L4 to S2. Applying our new surgical paradigm, we found no neurological worsening post-operatively. All patients had a neurogenic bladder and bowel dysfunction but none had a high-pressure bladder on urodynamics studies. Early and late MRIs all showed a loose and capacious neural placode to dural sac relationship. None had an inclusion dermoid cyst. Conclusion We propose a new paradigm for the surgical repair of open neural tube defects with intraoperative neuromonitoring and introduce a safe and reliable technique of placode debulking.
- Intraoperative neuromonitoring
- Open neural tube defect
- Post-natal repair
- Spina bifida
- Spinal dysraphism