Mechanism of trigeminal neuralgia: An ultrastructural analysis of trigeminal root specimens obtained during microvascular decompression surgery

Marshall Devor, Ruth Govrin-Lippmann, Z. Harry Rappaport

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Object. Recent progress in the understanding of abnormal electrical behavior in injured sensory neurons motivated an examination, at the ultrastructural level, of trigeminal roots of patients with trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Methods. In 12 patients biopsy specimens of trigeminal root were obtained during surgery for microvascular decompression. Pathological changes in tissue included axonopathy and axonal loss, demyelination, a range of less severe myelin abnormalities (dysmyelination), residual myelin debris, and the presence of excess collagen, including condensed collagen masses in two cases. Within zones of demyelination, groups of axons were often closely apposed without an intervening glial process. Pathological characteristics of nerve fibers were clearly graded with the degrees of root compression noted at operation. Pain also occurred, however, in some patients who did not appear to have a severe compressive injury. Conclusions. Findings were consistent with the ignition hypothesis of TN. This model can be used to explain the major positive and negative symptoms of TN by axonopathy-induced changes in the electrical excitability of afferent axons in the trigeminal root and of neuronal somata in the trigeminal ganglion. The key pathophysiological changes include ectopic impulse discharge, spontaneous and triggered after discharge, and crossexcitation among neighboring afferents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)532-543
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery
Volume96
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Cranial nerve neuralgia
  • Microvascular decompression
  • Nerve pathophysiology
  • Tic douloureux
  • Trigeminal neuralgia

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