Neurophysiological assessment of the feasibility and safety of neural tissue transplantation in patients with syringomyelia.
The feasibility and safety of a procedure involving fetal spinal cord tissue transplantation in patients with syringomyelia was assessed using a neurophysiological protocol designed to quantitate peripheral nerve function, spinal cord reflex excitability, and spinal cord conduction pathways essential for somatosensory evoked potentials. We report here data obtained before and for 18 months following the transplantation procedure performed on the first two patients in this study. The neurophysiological assessment protocols included measures of cortical and spinal cord evoked potentials, H-reflex excitability, and peripheral nerve conduction. Prior to the procedure, both patients had significant deficits on some of the neurophysiological measures, for example, lower extremity cortical evoked potentials. However, robust measures of intact pathways, such as upper extremity cortical evoked potentials, were also observed preoperatively in both patients. Thus, it was anticipated that conduction in these intact pathways could be at risk either from complications from the transplantation procedure and/or from continued expansion of the syrinx. Following the transplantation procedure, no negative changes were observed in any of the neurophysiological measures in either patient. In addition, patient 1 showed a decrease in the rate potentiation of tibial H-reflexes on the right side and an increase in the response probability of left tibial H-reflexes. The results of this postoperative longitudinal assessment provide a first-level demonstration of the safety of the intraspinal neural tissue transplantation procedure. However, the consideration of safety is currently limited to the grafting procedure itself, since the long-term fates of the donor tissue in these two patients remain to be shown more definitively.