Objective: The endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid route has been widely evaluated in cadavers, and it is currently used during surgery for specific diseases involving the lateral skull base. Identification of the petrous segment of the internal carotid artery (ICA) is a key step during this approach, and the vidian nerve (VN) has been described as a principal landmark for safe endonasal localization of the petrous ICA at the level of the foramen lacerum. However, the relationship of the VN to the ICA at this level is complex as well as variable and has not been described in the pertinent literature. Accordingly, the authors undertook this purely anatomical study to detail and quantify the peri-lacerum anatomy as seen via an endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid pathway.
Methods: Eight human anatomical specimens (16 sides) were dissected endonasally under direct endoscopic visualization. Anatomical landmarks of the VN and the posterior end of the vidian canal (VC) during the endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid approach were described, quantitative anatomical data were compiled, and a schematic classification of the most relevant structures encountered was proposed.
Results: The endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid approach was used to describe the different anatomical structures surrounding the anterior genu of the petrous ICA. Five key anatomical structures were identified and described: the VN, the eustachian tube, the foramen lacerum, the petroclival fissure, and the pharyngobasilar fascia. These structures were specifically quantified and summarized in a schematic acronym-VELPPHA-to describe the area. The VELPPHA area is a dense fibrocartilaginous space around the inferior compartment of the foramen lacerum that can be reached by following the VC posteriorly; this area represents the posterior limits of the transpterygoid approach and, of utmost importance, no neurovascular structures were observed through the VELPPHA area in this study, indicating that it should be a safe zone for surgery in the posterior end of the endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid approach.
Conclusions: The VELPPHA area represents the posterior limits of the endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid approach. Early identification of this area can enhance the safety of the endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid approach expanded to the lateral aspect of the skull base, especially when treating patients with poorly pneumatized sphenoid sinuses.
Keywords: ET = eustachian tube; FL = foramen lacerum; ICA = internal carotid artery; VC = vidian canal; VELPPHA = vidian nerve, eustachian tube, foramen lacerum, petroclival fissure, and pharyngobasilar fascia; VELPPHA area; VN = vidian nerve; anatomy; carotid artery; endoscopic endonasal transpterygoid approach; pterygoid process; skull base; transpterygoid approaches.