Objectives: Injury to the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN), if severe enough, can result in vocal fold paralysis. Reinnervation surgery can improve patient outcomes, but previous studies have reported a negative correlation between time since onset of paralysis and surgical outcomes. The ability of the paralyzed nerve to serve as a conduit for donor nerve fibers may be a factor in the success of reinnervation; however, changes in RLN composition after paralysis have not been well studied. Therefore, we investigated the morphometric composition of explanted RLN sections from patients who had experienced vocal fold paralysis for varying length of times.
Methods: Nine nerve sections from unilateral vocal fold paralysis (UVP) patients and seven control nerve sections were analyzed for morphometric parameters including fascicular area, fiber count, fiber density, fiber packing, mean g-ratio, and fiber diameter distribution. Nerves from UVP patients were also compared as a function of time since UVP onset.
Results: In comparison to control nerves, paralyzed nerves were found to have significantly lower fiber densities and fiber packing, higher mean g-ratio values, and a shift in diameter distributions toward smaller diameter fibers. With respect to paralysis duration, no significant differences were observed except in fiber diameter distributions, where those with paralysis for >2 years had distributions that were significantly shifted toward smaller diameter fibers.
Conclusions: The morphometric data presented here suggest that correlations between the time since onset of vocal fold paralysis and reinnervation outcomes may be due to fiber size changes in the paralyzed nerve over time.
Keywords: morphometric parameters; recurrent laryngeal nerve; reinnervation; vocal cord paralysis.