Neurophysiological Correlates in Patients with Syringomyelia and Chiari Malformation: The Cortico-Diaphragmatic Involvement

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Medicine. 11(17) (no pagination), 2022. Article Number: 5080.

DATE OF PUBLICATION: September 2022.

AUTHORS: Cocito D.; Peci E.; Garbossa D.; Ciaramitaro P.

PURPOSE: Brainstem syndromes have frequently been reported in Chiari syndrome and in syringobulbia; previous studies have shown that determining the central motor conduction time (CMCT) along the circuit of the phrenic nerve makes the assessment of the voluntary control of the
respiratory pathway possible. In our study, we evaluated the transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the phrenic nerve in patients affected by Chiari syndrome and/or syringomyelia (Syr) with the aim of identifying subclinical neurophysiological alterations.

METHODS: One hundred patients (75 females; average age: 51 +/- 13.08 SD; range: 18-76) affected by Chiari syndrome and/or Syr without dyspnea were selected. The magnetic stimulation of the second motor neuron correlating with the phrenic nerve was performed using cervical magnetic stimulation (C5-MEP); the cortical MEP after magnetic stimulation (Cz-MEP) was recorded by magnetic stimulation of the motor cortex (areas corresponding to the diaphragm). The CMCT was calculated. The differences between the patients and controls were calculated (Student’s t test).

RESULTS: In 13% of the patients, the Cz-MEP were absent bilaterally, and the CMCT was not evaluable. In all these cases, bulbar/cervical Syr was present at MRI; in 10 of them, this was associated with CM1. A bilateral response was obtained in all the other patients (87%), and the CMCTs were normal. All the patients with alterations/absence of Cz-MEP presented bulbar/cervical Syr at MRI. The C5-MEP latency was prolonged or absent in 48%; of these, 84% presented bulbar/cervical Syr associated with CM1 at MRI. The C5-MEP latency values were significantly higher in the group of patients.

CONCLUSIONS: Neurophysiological alterations of the diaphragmatic pathway were recorded in a group of Chiari syndrome and, particularly, in bulbar/cervical Syr. Future studies with larger cohorts of patients are needed to further assess the specific role of the TMS of the phrenic nerve in CM/Syr