Recurrent laryngeal nerve: a plexus rather than a nerve?

Archives of otolaryngology--head & neck surgery

PubMedID: 19917921

Cernea CR, Hojaij FC, De Carlucci D, Gotoda R, Plopper C, Vanderlei F, Brandão LG. Recurrent laryngeal nerve: a plexus rather than a nerve?. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009;135(11):1098-102.
OBJECTIVES
To analyze the frequency of extralaryngeal branching (ELB) of the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) in a consecutive series of patients undergoing thyroidectomy by the same group of surgeons during an extended period and to compare our findings with the data available in the literature.

DESIGN
Retrospective medical record study.

SETTING
Academic research.

PATIENTS
From March 1, 1983, to September 30, 2008, 2677 patients underwent thyroidectomy. Of these, 1638 patients had surgical information about at least 1 RLN. A total of 1081 patients underwent bilateral operations. During the last 5 years of the study, intraoperative laryngeal nerve monitoring was performed in selected patients using a commercially available system.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES
Information was obtained regarding 2154 RLNs.

RESULTS
A total of 1390 RLNs (64.53%) had ELB. Among 447 patients in whom intraoperative laryngeal nerve monitoring was used, the anterior branches usually exhibited more electrophysiologic activity.

CONCLUSIONS
Extralaryngeal branching was found in 64.53% of RLNs in this case series. In recent patients with intraoperative laryngeal nerve monitoring, electrophysiologic activity was observed in the branches, particularly the anteriorly situated ones. Recognition of this frequent anatomical configuration and meticulous preservation of all branches are of paramount importance to decrease postoperative morbidity associated with thyroidectomy.