Objective: This is a prospective study of the methodology and clinical applications of motor evoked potentials (MEPs) during surgery for intramedullary spinal cord tumors.
Methods: Transcranial electrical stimulation was used to activate corticospinal motoneurons, and the traveling waves of the spinal cord were recorded through catheter-electrodes placed epi- or subdurally. Intraoperative MEP monitoring was performed in 32 consecutive patients (age range, 1-50 yr) undergoing resection of intramedullary spinal cord tumors. In 19 patients, MEPs were present before myelotomy (monitorable group), and in 10 patients, MEPs were absent before myelotomy (unmonitorable group). Placement of an epidural electrode was not possible in two patients, and technical problems prevented recording in one.
Results: MEP amplitudes decreased intraoperatively by more than 50% of baseline in three patients, all of whom had postoperative paraplegia. Two of these patients recovered within 1 week after surgery, and one remained paraplegic. None of the patients with preserved MEP amplitude (> 50%) sustained immediate significant postoperative deterioration. Motor function was significantly deteriorated 1 week after surgery in one patient in the monitorable group and in five patients in the unmonitorable group. MEP monitorability was significantly associated with good surgical outcome for adult patients (P < 0.05), although not for pediatric patients (P > 0.6). Preoperative motor status and surgical outcome were not significantly associated for the adult (P = 0.13) or pediatric groups (P > 0.4).
Conclusion: MEP monitorability was a better predictor of functional outcome than the patient's preoperative motor status for the adult group. Significant predictors of MEP monitorability in the adult group were preoperative motor function (P < 0.01), history of no previous treatment (surgery or irradiation) (P < 0.01), and small tumor size (P < 0.05). Weak associations with monitorable MEPs existed for low-grade tumors (P = 0.09), the presence of baseline somatosensory evoked potentials (P = 0.10), and tumor pathological abnormalities (ependymoma) (P = 0.13). No associations were determined for sex (P > 0.4), associated syrinx (P > 0.3), or tumor location (P > 0.5). In the pediatric group, none of the examined factors were associated with MEP monitorability (P > 0.3). A decline of more than 50% in MEP amplitude during tumor removal should serve as a serious warning sign to the surgeon.