Intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring of the spinal cord during spinal cord and spine surgery: a review focus on the corticospinal tracts

Clin Neurophysiol. 2008 Feb;119(2):248-64. doi: 10.1016/j.clinph.2007.09.135. Epub 2007 Nov 28.


Recent advances in technology and the refinement of neurophysiological methodologies are significantly changing intraoperative neurophysiological monitoring (IOM) of the spinal cord. This review will summarize the latest achievements in the monitoring of the spinal cord during spine and spinal cord surgeries. This overview is based on an extensive review of the literature and the authors' personal experience. Landmark articles and neurophysiological techniques have been briefly reported to contextualize the development of new techniques. This background is extended to describe the methodological approach to intraoperatively elicit and record spinal D wave and muscle motor evoked potentials (muscle MEPs). The clinical application of spinal D wave and muscle MEP recordings is critically reviewed (especially in the field of Neurosurgery) and new developments such as mapping of the dorsal columns and the corticospinal tracts are presented. In the past decade, motor evoked potential recording following transcranial electrical stimulation has emerged as a reliable technique to intraoperatively assess the functional integrity of the motor pathways. Criteria based on the absence/presence of potentials, their morphology and threshold-related parameters have been proposed for muscle MEPs. While the debate remains open, it appears that different criteria may be applied for different procedures according to the expected surgery-related morbidity and the ultimate goal of the surgeon (e.g. total tumor removal versus complete absence of transitory or permanent neurological deficits). On the other hand, D wave changes--when recordable--have proven to be the strongest predictors of maintained corticospinal tract integrity (and therefore, of motor function/recovery). Combining the use of muscle MEPs with D wave recordings provides the most comprehensive approach for assessing the functional integrity of the spinal cord motor tracts during surgery for intramedullary spinal cord tumors. However, muscle MEPs may suffice to assess motor pathways during other spinal procedures and in cases where the pathophysiology of spinal cord injury is purely ischemic. Finally, while MEPs are now considered the gold standard for monitoring the motor pathways, SEPs continue to retain value as they provide specificity for assessing the integrity of the dorsal column. However, we believe SEPs should not be used exclusively--or as an alternative to motor evoked potentials--during spine surgery, but rather as a complementary method in combination with MEPs. For intramedullary spinal tumor resection, SEPs should not be used exclusively without MEPs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electrophysiology / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Intraoperative*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord / surgery*
  • Spine / surgery*