Anatomy of the Spinal Accessory Nerve Plexus: Relevance to Head and Neck Cancer and Atherosclerosis1
Henry Brown ,2
The Harvard University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, The Division of Plastic Surgery, The Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts 02115; l’ Institut d’Anatomie, Academie de Paris, Université René Descartes, U.F.R. Biomédicale, Paris, France; and the Departments of Anatomy and Orthopedics, The University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The term spinal accessory nerve plexus may be defined as the spinal accessory nerve with all its intra- and extracranial connections to other nerves, principally cranial, cervical, and sympathetic. The term is not new. This review examines its applied anatomy in head and neck cancer and atherosclerosis. Over the centuries, general studies of neural and vascular anatomy and embryology formed a basis for the understanding upon which the plexus is described. During the past century, its anatomy and blood supply have come to be better understood. The importance of almost all of the plexus to head, neck, and upper extremity motor and sensory functions has come to be realized. Because of this understanding, surgical neck dissection has become progressively more conservative. This historical progression is traced. Even the most recent anatomic studies of the spinal accessory nerve plexus reveal configurations, new to many of us. They were probably known to classical anatomists, and not recorded in readily available literature, or not recorded at all. Human and comparative anatomic studies indicate that the composition of this plexus and its blood supply vary widely, even though within the same species their overall function is very nearly the same. Loss of any of these structures, then, may have very different consequences in different individuals. As a corollary to this statement, data are presented that the spinal accessory nerve itself need not be cut during surgical neck dissections for severe impairment to occur. In addition, data are presented supporting the theory that atherosclerosis by obstructing vessels to this plexus and its closely connected brachial plexus will very likely result in their ischemic dysfunction, often painful. Finally evidence, as well as theory, is stated concerning anatomic issues, methodology, outcome, and possible improvements in surgical procedures emphasizing conservatism.
Key Words: spinal accessory nerve • plexus • head and neck cancer • atherosclerosis
Experimental Biology and Medicine 227:570-578 (2002). © 2002 Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine.