Radial Artery Harvest for Cerebral Revascularization: Technical Pearls

Published on 10/03/2015 by admin

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Last modified 10/03/2015

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11 Radial Artery Harvest for Cerebral Revascularization

Technical Pearls


Cerebral revascularization remains an important technique in the armamentarium of vascular neurosurgeons. Originally described by Yasargil et al.1 for the treatment of occlusive cerebrovascular disease, the indications for bypass surgery have expanded to include the management of fusiform or giant aneurysms and complex skull-based tumors.26 The choice of bypass conduits has evolved concomitantly. The selection criteria for an appropriate conduit is dependent upon a number of factors, including the extent of blood flow augmentation required, graft length, recipient vessel size, long-term occlusion rates, and the ease, availability and safety of the graft’s harvest.68 The radial artery is frequently an ideal candidate. Although extensively described for use in coronary circulation bypass, the evaluation of employing radial artery grafts for cerebral revascularization has not been paid a similar service. In this chapter, we focus on the preoperative evaluation and technical nuances of radial artery harvest for cerebrovascular bypass.

Radial artery bypass grafts

The use of the radial artery as a conduit for vascular bypass was first reported by Carpentier et al.9 in the treatment of coronary artery disease. In 1978, Ausman et al.10 described the use of a radial artery interposition graft for PICA distribution revascularization in the neurosurgical literature. However, its subsequent popularity as a bypass conduit diminished initially due to difficulties with vasospasm-induced graft failure and trauma during skeletonized harvesting.11,12 Advancements in calcium channel blockade and the use of the pressure distention technique13 led to its resurgence in the late 1990s.14 The first large series introducing radial artery conduits as a viable alternative to saphenous vein and pedicled arterial grafts for EC-IC bypass was reported by Sekhar et al.13 in 2001. Following that landmark study, it remains the conduit of choice for high flow bypass at many institutions.

The radial artery is a medium-sized vessel with a diameter of ∼3.5 mm and a flow rate of 40 to 70 ml/min.15 It originates at the bifurcation of the brachial artery in the antecubital fossa, supplies muscular branches to the radial forearm, and terminates in the superficial and deep palmar arcades. Here it anastamoses with the ulnar artery to supply the hand (Figure 11–1). The radial artery is comparable in caliber to common sites of cerebrovascular attachment, namely the M2 and P1 segments, which facilitates anastamosis construction and prevents flow mismatch. It is most commonly used in high flow bypasses, following temporary or permanent occlusion of medium to large vessels, when significant flow augmentation is required. With time and demand, radial artery grafts have been shown to distend appreciably and achieve larger flow rates.3 In comparison to saphenous vein grafts, radial arteries have many advantages. They lack the valves and varices present in venous conduits, which increase the risk of graft thrombosis and induce directionality to the conduit. Arterial walls are thick and facilitate anastamosis construction, minimize kinking, and are physiologically designed to carry arterial blood flow and can adapt to changes in pressure and flow. Radial artery grafts have also been shown to better tolerate temporary occlusion and in the long-term are less susceptible to intimal hyperplasia and graft atherosclerosis than vein grafts.16 They also have improved long-term patency rates as compared to saphenous vein counterparts in both the cardiothoracic17,18 and neurosurgical19,20 revascularization literature. In addition, harvest of the radial artery is relatively straightforward given its constant anatomical location within the radial forearm. Donor site morbidity is minimal and includes vascular insufficiency, forearm or hand dysesthesias and weakness, and a low but measurable harvest site infection rate.21 The major limiting factor for the use of the radial artery is its length. Frequently, lengths of 20 to 25 cm are required to create a tension-free anastamosis from the neck to a cranial attachment. Poor preoperative screening for this limitation can lead to intraoperative abandonment of the graft. Contraindications for its use as a bypass conduit include forearm ischemia on preoperative testing, severe atherosclerosis or calcification within the graft, and dissection from prior cannulation.

Preoperative Diagnostic Evaluation for Radial Artery Harvest

The preoperative assessment of the intended radial harvest graft is crucial to ensure adequate length and prevent postoperative vascular insufficiency within the hand. The nondominant side is preferred; however, either forearm may be used. If appropriate, the arm contralateral to the planned craniotomy allows for multiple teams to proceed simultaneously in the operative room. Short arms may foreshadow a radial artery graft with an inadequate length, requiring more extensive evaluation (Figure 11–2).

The first step in the evaluation of a potential radial artery graft should be an Allen’s test to confirm adequate ulnar collateral circulation to the palmar arcades. This test is inexpensive, easy to perform, and is highly reliable. It is conducted by occluding both the radial and ulnar arteries within the forearm until pallor is appreciated in the hand. The ulnar artery is then released and the pallor should be replaced by hyperemic rubor, which will gradually fade to normal hues. If the ulnar artery supply is insufficient, the hand pallor will remain. The modified Allen’s test employs the use of pulse oximetry while conducting the assessment.22 The probe is placed on the index finger, and a baseline amplitude is measured. Allen’s test is then conducted, and, if the amplitude of the curve is low or the value does not return to baseline within 10 seconds, the harvest of that artery is abandoned. In a prospective study in 2001, Meharwal and Trehan21 used this technique for the preoperative evaluation of 3977 radial artery grafts and reported no postoperative ischemic hand complications. Alternatively, pulse oximetry can be measured intraoperatively following temporary clipping of the radial artery. Digital plethysmography and duplex ultrasonography have also been reported as adjunct measures to assess the relative flow within the radial and ulnar arteries and confirm the patency of the palmar arcade.23,24

There are many imaging modalities currently available to preoperatively evaluate the caliber and length of the intended radial artery. These include ultrasound, CT angiography, and intraluminal catheter based angiography (Figures 11-3 through 11-5).

Once the decision to harvest a radial artery graft is made, swift evaluation and site selection should be made so that arterial lines and blood gas analysis are avoided on that side.

Technique for radial artery harvest and preparation

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