Intraoperative mapping of sensate flaps: Electrophysiologic techniques and neurosomal boundaries

John S. Rhee, Donald J. Weisz, Martin B. Hirigoyen, Uttam Sinha, Nelson Alcaraz, Mark L. Urken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: The desirability of restoring sensation to the upper aerodigestive tract has led to an expanded use of sensate flaps for reconstruction of mucosal defects. Sensation can be restored via preformed neural pathways through the anastomosis of recipient and donor nerves, provided that the sensate flap falls within the boundaries of the neurosome for the identified sensory nerve Objectives: To perform detailed electrophysiologic mappings of neurosomes of potential sensate flap donor sites, to describe their variability, and to investigate the usefulness of intraoperative mapping in terms of flap design and harvesting. Design: A case series of 27 patients who were undergoing free flap reconstruction of various postablative head and neck defects were examined. Two silver-silver chloride recording electrodes were placed in direct contact with the dissected sensory nerve, and the overlying skin was either mechanically or electrically stimulated. Auditory feedback, as well as visualization of the responses on an oscilloscope, determined whether the stimulated area fell within the neurosome. This technique was applied to the lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve of the radial forearm flap (n=15), the lateral sural cutaneous nerve of the fibula flap (n=5), the subcostal nerve of the iliac crest flap (n=6), and the dorsal cutaneous rami of spinal nerve T-1 or T-2 of the scapula flap (n=1). Results: The neurosome of the lateral antebrachial cutaneous nerve was relatively consistent with the variability only at the distal boundary (ie, the dorsum of the hand). The neurosome of the lateral sural cutaneous nerve was more variable, falling into 2 distinct innervation patterns: one showing innervation that was limited to the upper lateral and posterior portions of the calf and the other demonstrating significant extension into the lower half of the calf. The neurosome of the subcostal nerve showed little variability and consistently overlapped the proposed skin paddle. The neurosome of the T-1 or T-2 spinal nerve was mapped in 1 patient and is described. Conclusions: The consistency of neurosomal boundaries is dependent on the donor site. Intraoperative mapping of flap donor sites may not only assure the harvesting of a true sensate flap, but may also allow for intraoperative decision mailing with regard to possible modifications of flap design and harvesting techniques. Two new sensate flaps from the iliac crest and scapula are accurately described.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)823-829
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1997


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