Targeted, sensory restoration to the upper aerodigestive tract with physiologic implications

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Background. Sensory restoration through sensate flaps placed into critical areas of the upper aerodigestive tract is an attractive reconstructive goal to achieve optimal post-therapy function. The question that has remained unanswered is whether sensory recovery takes place through the newly established neural pathway or through ingrowth of sensory nerves from the periphery of the defect. Methods. Three patients with squamous cell cancer underwent resection and primary reconstruction of the laryngopharynx with a sensate radial forearm flap. The flaps were designed with a smaller, proximal paddle to serve as a monitor. Reneurotization of the flaps was carried out to the superior laryngeal nerve. Results. All three patients were followed for a minimum of 12 months. Each of these patients reported the development of a cough that resulted from stimulation of the external monitor. This phenomenon was easily duplicated by light stimulation of the monitor, which not only produced the cough but was consistently perceived by the patient as arising from inside their throat. Conclusions. This series conclusively demonstrates that sensory feedback can be restored in a targeted fashion through neural anastomoses and that a physiologic response that helps in airway protection can be produced through the use of sensate flaps with a strategically selected recipient nerve.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-293
Number of pages7
JournalHead and Neck
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Nerve anastomosis
  • Sensory restoration
  • Upper aerodigestive tract


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