Physiological Signatures of Brain Death Uncovered by Intracranial Multimodal Neuromonitoring

J Neurosurg Anesthesiol. 2021 Oct 1;33(4):347-350. doi: 10.1097/ANA.0000000000000672.


Background: The physiological and neurochemical changes that accompany brain death are not well described.

Materials and methods: A retrospective observational study of patients with acute brain injury who underwent intracranial multimodality neuromonitoring between October 2015 and June 2018. Patients were included for analysis either if brain death was diagnosed or refractory intracranial hypertension with persistent equalization of intracranial pressure (ICP) and mean arterial pressure (MAP) developed.

Results: Of 114 patients who underwent invasive neuromonitoring, 11 cases with MAP/ICP equalization were identified. Of those, 9 were declared brain dead based on accepted national and institutional criteria. An additional 2 cases with MAP/ICP equalization who died after withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies were identified. Of the 11 identified patients, 10 had continuous monitoring data available for analysis. Cerebral microdialysis data were available for 4 patients.In the 10 cases with available continuous data, ICP/MAP equalization was associated with marked reduction of cerebral blood flow and brain tissue oxygen tension to near zero levels as well as a significant decrease in brain temperature compared with body temperature. In the 4 patients with microdialysis monitoring, ICP/MAP equalization resulted in a near complete depletion of cerebral glucose and pyruvate, as well as a marked rise in cerebral glycerol. Finally, ICP/MAP equalization was accompanied by complete loss of cerebrovascular pressure reactivity, decrease in intracranial pulse pressure, and a paradoxical improvement of ICP waveform morphology.

Conclusions: A characteristic set of changes in cerebrovascular physiology and neurochemistry occurs during brain death. These changes can be identified by intracranial neuromonitoring.