The Most Common Anatomical Variation of Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve: Extralaryngeal Branching

Sisli Etfal Hastan Tip Bul. 2021 Sep 24;55(3):294-303. doi: 10.14744/SEMB.2021.93609. eCollection 2021.


Objective: Extralaryngeal branching of recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) is frequent. In various studies, detection rate of extralaryngeal nerve branching was increased by intraoperative neuromonitorization (IONM). Our aim was evaluation of the relationship between the features of extralaryngeal branching of RLN and other anatomic variations in thyroidectomy patients under the guidance of IONM.

Methods: Patients underwent thyroidectomy using IONM between January 2016 and December 2019 and whose RLNs were fully explored till the nerve's entry point to the larynx, were enrolled to the study. Extralaryngeal branching of RLN was accepted as branching of the nerve at a ≥5 mm distance from its laryngeal entry point and having its all branches entering the larynx. Entrapment of RLN at the region of ligament of Berry (BL) by a vascular structure or posterior BL and relationship between RLN and inferior thyroid artery (ITA) was evaluated.

Results: Out of 696 patients meeting the inclusion criteria, 1127 neck sides (536F and 160M) were evaluated. Mean age was 49.1±13.4 (range; 18-89). Nerve branching ratio was 35.3% and was higher in females than males (38.2%vs.25.8%, p<0.0001, respectively). Extralaryngeal branching of RLN was detected in 398 (35.3%) out of 1127 nerves. A total of 368 (92.5%) RLNs had two, 27 (6.8%) nerves had three, and 3 (0.7%) had multiple branches. RLN crossed anterior to and between branches of ITA more frequently in branching nerves than non-branching nerves (47.7 vs. 44.4% and 12.8% vs. 7.6%, respectively) but crossed posterior to ITA less frequently in branching nerves (38.5% vs. 48%, respectively, p=0.001). Entrapment of RLN at the region of BL was higher in branched nerves (25.9% vs. 17.5%, respectively, p=0.001). Entrapment of RLN wasmore frequent at the right side than left side both in branching (31.5% vs.19.4%, respectively, p=0.008) and non-branching nerves (20.6% vs. 14.4%, respectively).

Conclusion: Extralaryngeal branching of RLN is not rare and mostly divided into two branches. Branching ratio is higher in females than males. In branching nerves, rate of crossing anterior to and between branches of ITA was higher, in non-branching nerves, rate of crossing posterior to ITA was higher. In branching nerves, possibility of entrapment of RLN at the region of BL was higher. Both in branching and non-branching nerves, entrapment of RLN at the region of BL was higher at the right side. Extralaryngeal branching, relationship between RLN and ITA, and entrapment of RLN at the region of BL are frequently seen and variable anatomic variations and cannot be foreseen preoperatively. Most of the extralaryngeal branches and their relationship with other variations can be detected by finding RLN at the level of ITA and following RLN until its entry point to the larynx.

Keywords: Intraoperative monitoring; larynx; recurrent laryngeal nerve; thyroidectomy.