OBJECTIVE: Surgical management of brainstem lesions is challenging due to the highly compact, eloquent anatomy of the brainstem. This study aimed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of preoperative diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and diffusion tensor tractography (DTT) in brainstem cavernous malformations (CMs). METHODS: A prospective randomized controlled clinical trial was performed by using stratified blocked randomization. The primary eligibility criterion of the study was being a surgical candidate for brainstem CMs (with informed consent). The study enrolled 23 patients who underwent preoperative DTI/DTT and 24 patients who did not (the control group). The pre- and postoperative muscle strength of both limbs and modified Rankin Scale (mRS) scores were evaluated. Muscle strength of any limb at 12 months after surgery at the clinic visit was the primary outcome; worsened muscle strength was considered to be a poor outcome. Outcome assessors were blinded to patient management. This study reports the preliminary results of the interim analysis. RESULTS: The cohort included 47 patients (22 women) with a mean age of 35.7 years. The clinical baselines between these 2 groups were not significantly different. In the DTI/DTT group, the corticospinal tract was affected in 17 patients (73.9%): it was displaced, deformed/partially interrupted, or completely interrupted in 6, 7, and 4 patients, respectively. The surgical approach and brainstem entry point were adjusted in 3 patients (13.0%) based on DTI/DTT data. The surgical morbidity of the DTI/DTT group (7/23, 30.4%) was significantly lower than that of the control group (19/24, 79.2%, p = 0.001). At 12 months, the mean mRS score (1.1, p = 0.034) and percentage of patients with worsened motor deficits (4.3%, p = 0.006) were significantly lower in the DTI/DTT group than in the control group (1.7% and 37.5%). Multivariate logistic regression identified the absence of preoperative DTI/DTT (OR 0.06, 95% CI 0.01-0.73, p = 0.028) and use of the 2-point method (OR 4.15, 95% CI 1.38-12.49, p = 0.011) as independent adverse factors for a worsened motor deficit. The multivariate model found a significant correlation between poor mRS score and both an increased preoperative mRS score (t = 3.559, p = 0.001) and absence of preoperative DTI/DTT (t = -2.747, p = 0.009). CONCLUSIONS: DTI/DTT noninvasively allowed for visualization of the anatomical relationship between vital tracts and pathologies as well as facilitated the brainstem surgical approach and entry-point decision making. The technique was valuable for complex neurosurgical planning to reduce morbidity. Nonetheless, DTI/DTT data should be interpreted cautiously.■ CLASSIFICATION OF EVIDENCE Type of question: therapeutic; study design: randomized controlled trial; evidence: class I. Clinical trial registration no.: NCT01758211 (ClinicalTrials.gov).
Keywords: CM = cavernous malformation; CN = cranial nerve; CST = corticospinal tract; DTI = diffusion tensor imaging; DTT = diffusion tensor tractography; DVA = developmental venous anomaly; FA = fractional anisotropy; GTR = gross-total resection; ICP = inferior cerebellar peduncle; MCP = middle cerebellar peduncle; ML = medial lemniscus; MLF = medial longitudinal fasciculus; MRC = Medical Research Council; MS = muscle strength; SCP = superior cerebellar peduncle; brainstem cavernous malformation; cavernoma; corticospinal tract; diffusion tensor imaging; fiber tractography; mRS = modified Rankin Scale; vascular disorders.