Syndrome of the trephined: clinical spectrum, risk factors, and impact of cranioplasty on neurologic recovery in a prospective cohort

Neurosurg Rev. 2022 Apr;45(2):1431-1443. doi: 10.1007/s10143-021-01655-6. Epub 2021 Oct 7.


Syndrome of the trephined (SoT) is an underrecognized complication after decompressive craniectomy. We aimed to investigate SoT incidence, clinical spectrum, risk factors, and the impact of the cranioplasty on neurologic recovery. Patients undergoing a large craniectomy (> 80 cm2) and cranioplasty were prospectively evaluated using modified Rankin score (mRS), cognitive (attention/processing speed, executive function, language, visuospatial), motor (Motricity Index, Jamar dynamometer, postural score, gait assessment), and radiologic evaluation within four days before and after a cranioplasty. The primary outcome was SoT, diagnosed when a neurologic improvement was observed after the cranioplasty. The secondary outcome was a good neurologic outcome (mRS 0-3) 4 days and 90 days after the cranioplasty. Logistic regression models were used to evaluate the risk factors for SoT and the impact of cranioplasty timing on neurologic recovery. We enrolled 40 patients with a large craniectomy; 26 (65%) developed SoT and improved after the cranioplasty. Brain trauma, hemorrhagic lesions, and shifting of brain structures were associated with SoT. After cranioplasty, a shift towards a good outcome was observed within 4 days (p = 0.025) and persisted at 90 days (p = 0.005). Increasing delay to cranioplasty was associated with decreased odds of improvement when adjusting for age and baseline disability (odds ratio 0.96; 95% CI, 0.93-0.99, p = 0.012). In conclusion, SoT is frequent after craniectomy and interferes with neurologic recovery. High suspicion of SoT should be exercised in patients who fail to progress or have a previous trauma, hemorrhage, or shifting of brain structures. Performing the cranioplasty earlier was associated with improved and quantifiable neurologic recovery. Graphical abstract.

Keywords: Cranioplasty; Decompressive craniectomy; Motor trephine syndrome; Neurologic recovery; Postoperative complications; Rehabilitation; Sinking skin flap; Stroke; Syndrome of the trephined.

MeSH terms

  • Decompressive Craniectomy* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Plastic Surgery Procedures* / adverse effects
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / surgery
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Skull / surgery