Pontomedullary Tears and Other Gross Brainstem Injuries after Vehicular Accidents

NH&MRC Road Accident Research Unit, University of Adelaide, South Australia.
The Journal of trauma (Impact Factor: 2.96). 12/1989; 29(11):1519-25. DOI: 10.1097/00005373-198911000-00011
Source: PubMed


In a series of 988 autopsied victims of road crashes, there were 36 (3.6%) cases of gross primary brainstem injury. These fell into three groups. The first comprised eight cases of pontomedullary tearing without other gross brain injury: in seven of these, there were associated atlanto-occipital dislocations and/or high cervical fracture-dislocations. The usual cause appeared to be facial impact inducing acute hyperextension. Second, there were 17 cases of pontomedullary tearing associated with other brainstem lacerations and/or major damage elsewhere in the brain: in all, there were fractures of the skull base, typically transverse middle fossa fractures. Most of these injuries appeared to be due to facial impacts transmitting force to the anterior skull base, although hyperextension was also a factor in some. There was a third heterogeneous group of 11 cases with brainstem lacerations in sites other than the pontomedullary junction: in some of these it appeared that the impacts had caused skull base fractures by inducing calvarial torsion. In this series, the proportion of motorcyclists (41.7%) was double the expected figure. The use of a helmet modifies the mechanisms of impact head injury; the overall benefits of helmet use are well established, but there is need for more research on helmet design.

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    • "Simpson et al. found only 25 cases of clear PML, mostly among motorcyclists [15]. "
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    ABSTRACT: The aim of this study was to determine the frequency of brainstem pontomedullar lacerations among fatally injured car occupants in head-on collisions, as well as the concomitant cranial injuries, and to establish a possible underlying mechanism for brainstem laceration. Brainstem pontomedullar lacerations (PML) are often associated with fractures of the skull base (hinge, ring or pyramidal fractures) or with cervical spine fractures. Out of 705 cases of deceased car occupants involved in head-on car collisions, some form of head injury was present in 447 cases (63.4%). These cases included 353 men and 94 women with an average age of 38.2±15.8 years (range 16-89 years). The collected cases included 229 drivers, 164 front-seat and 54 rear-seat passengers. PML were present in 67 of these cases (15%), 50 men and 17 women with an average age of 42.9±15.6 years (range 15-77 years), including 32 drivers, 26 front-seat and 9 rear-seat passengers. In all of these cases the brainstem laceration was partial and the depth varied approximately from 4mm to 8mm. To understand the mechanisms by which PML occurs, we classified the head impact areas into frontal, lateral, posterior and chin area, depending on the injuries to the soft tissue of the head and scalp, as well as facial and cranial fractures. Injury impact area of the head was a good predictor of PML occurrence (χ(2)=131.112, df=3, p=0.000). Chin impact was most often associated with PML-38 cases (Wald. coeff.=5.805, df=1, p=0.016). Presence or absence of mandibular fracture was significant for PML occurrence (χ(2)=11.413, df=1, p=0.001): persons without mandibular fracture have 2.3 times greater risk for PML than those with fracture (odd ratio=7.196). Among the observed skull base fractures, the best predictor of PML was ring fracture (Wald. coeff.=30.729, df=2, p=0.000). Our study showed that PML was present in a significant number of car occupants sustaining head injuries in head-on collisions (15%). Impact to the chin with or without a ring fracture to the skull base most often led to this fatal injury, probably after collision with the dashboard.
    Full-text · Article · May 2010 · Forensic science international
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    • "An association between HCSI and brain stem injury was found in 100% of the present population. This association has been previously described in autopsy studies including adult victims of highspeed road accidents [7]. We assumed that such an association could be a distinct pattern of these bjuvenileQ HCSI resulting in initial respiratory arrest or apnea, and has important consequences on the outcome of children surviving this dramatic injury. "
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    ABSTRACT: In young children, high cervical spine injuries (HCSI) can result in inaugural reversible, cardiac arrest or apnea. We noted in children sustaining such injuries an unusual incidence of associated brain stem injuries and defined a special pattern of combined lesions. Children with HSCI surviving inaugural cardiac arrest/apnea were selected for a retrospective analysis of a trauma data bank. Epidemiologic, clinical, and radiological characteristics, and outcome were reviewed and compared with those of the rest of the trauma population with severe neurologic injuries (defined by a Glasgow Coma Scale < 8). Thirteen children with HCSI above the C3 spinal level and inaugural cardiac arrest/apnea were identified and compared with 819 severely head injured children without HSCI. Mean age was 4.7 +/- 2.9 years, and median Glasgow Coma Scale was 3 (3-6) after resuscitation. Initial standard x-ray views missed spine injuries in 6 patients. Spiral computed tomographic (CT) scan showed cervical fracture-dislocations associated with diffuse brain lesions and brain stem injury in all patients. Children with combined lesions had more frequent severe facial and skull base fractures compared with the rest of the population. They also were younger and sustained more frequent severe distracting injury to the neck than the rest of the population. Mortality rate (69%) was 2.6-fold higher than that observed in children without HCSI. In survivors, none demonstrated spinal cord injury resulting in persistent peripheral neurologic deficits, but only one achieved a good recovery. Combined HCSI and brain stem injuries must be suspected in young children sustaining a severe distracting injury to the craniocervical junction. Early recognition of these catastrophic injuries by systematic spiral cervical spine and brain stem computed tomographic scan evaluation is mandatory.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2005 · Journal of Pediatric Surgery
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    • "In young infants, for example, it is proposed that a mechanism of fatal non-accidental head trauma involves a stretch injury at the craniocervical junction, resulting in apnoea from interference with respiratory function , hypoxic brain swelling and death as a consequence of brainstem compression. Some cases of immediately fatal head trauma in adult life are associated with traumatic separation of the pons and medulla (Lindenberg and Freytag, 1970; Simpson et al., 1989), but lesser tears of axons in the brainstem are found commonly in those dying shortly after a head injury, particularly those involved in road-traf®c accidents, though there may also be other lesions that account for death. "
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    ABSTRACT: Axonal damage has recently been recognized to be a key predictor of outcome in a number of diverse human CNS diseases, including head and spinal cord trauma, metabolic encephalopathies, multiple sclerosis and other white-matter diseases (acute haemorrhagic leucoencephalitis, leucodystrophies and central pontine myelinolysis), infections [malaria, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and infection with human lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-I) causing HTLV-I-associated myelopathy (HAM)/tropical spastic paraparesis (TSP)] and subcortical ischaemic damage. The evidence for axonal damage and, where available, its correlation with neurological outcome in each of these conditions is reviewed. We consider the possible pathogenetic mechanisms involved and how increasing understanding of these may lead to more effective therapeutic or preventive interventions.
    Preview · Article · Apr 2003 · Brain
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