Potential for thermal damage to the blood-brain barrier during craniotomy: implications for intracortical recording microelectrodes

J Neural Eng. 2018 Jun;15(3):034001. doi: 10.1088/1741-2552/aa9f32. Epub 2017 Dec 5.


Objective: Our objective was to determine how readily disruption of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) occurred as a result of bone drilling during a craniotomy to implant microelectrodes in rat cortex. While the phenomenon of heat production during bone drilling is well known, practices to evade damage to the underlying brain tissue are inconsistently practiced and reported in the literature.

Approach: We conducted a review of the intracortical microelectrode literature to summarize typical approaches to mitigate drill heating during rodent craniotomies. Post mortem skull-surface and transient brain-surface temperatures were experimentally recorded using an infrared camera and thermocouple, respectively. A number of drilling conditions were tested, including varying drill speed and continuous versus intermittent contact. In vivo BBB permeability was assayed 1 h after the craniotomy procedure using Evans blue dye.

Main results: Of the reviewed papers that mentioned methods to mitigate thermal damage during craniotomy, saline irrigation was the most frequently cited (in six of seven papers). In post mortem tissues, we observed increases in skull-surface temperature ranging from +3 °C to +21 °C, dependent on drill speed. In vivo, pulsed-drilling (2 s-on/2 s-off) and slow-drilling speeds (1000 r.p.m.) were the most effective methods we studied to mitigate heating effects from drilling, while inconclusive results were obtained with saline irrigation.

Significance: Neuroinflammation, initiated by damage to the BBB and perpetuated by the foreign body response, is thought to play a key role in premature failure of intracortical recording microelectrodes. This study demonstrates the extreme sensitivity of the BBB to overheating caused by bone drilling. To avoid damage to the BBB, the authors recommend that craniotomies be drilled with slow speeds and/or with intermittent drilling with complete removal of the drill from the skull during 'off' periods. While saline alone was ineffective at preventing overheating, its use is still recommended to remove bone dust from the surgical site and to augment other cooling methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Craniotomy / adverse effects*
  • Craniotomy / trends
  • Electrodes, Implanted / adverse effects*
  • Electrodes, Implanted / trends
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Microelectrodes / adverse effects
  • Microelectrodes / trends
  • Rats
  • Thermography / methods
  • Thermography / trends