The intercostal nerve as a target for diagnostic biopsy

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OBJECTIVE Peripheral nerve biopsy is a useful tool in diagnosing peripheral neuropathies. Sural and gracilis nerves have become the most common targets for nerve biopsy. However, the yield of sural nerve biopsy is limited in patients who have motor neuropathies, and gracilis nerve biopsy presents technical challenges and increased complications. The authors propose the intercostal nerve as an alternative motor nerve target for biopsy. METHODS A total of 4 patients with suspected peripheral neuropathies underwent intercostal nerve biopsy at the authors' institution. A rib interspace that is inferior to the pectoralis muscle and anterior to the anterior axillary line is selected for the procedure. Generally the lower intercostal nerves (i.e., T7-11) are targeted. An incision is made over the inferior aspect of the superior rib at the chosen interspace. Blunt dissection is carried down to the neurovascular bundle and the nerve is isolated, ligated, and cut to send for pathological examination. RESULTS The average operative time for all cases was 73 minutes, with average blood loss of 8 ml. Biopsy results from 1 patient exhibited axonopathy, and the other 3 patients demonstrated axonopathy with demyelination. There were no short- or long-term postoperative complications. None of the patients reported sensory or motor deficits related to the biopsy at 6 weeks postoperatively. CONCLUSIONS The intercostal nerve can be an alternative target for biopsy, especially in patients with predominantly motor neuropathies, due to its mixed sensory and motor fibers, straightforward anatomy, minimal risk of serious sensory deficits, and no risk of motor impairment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1222-1225
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Intercostal nerve
  • Nerve biopsy
  • Peripheral nerve
  • Peripheral neuropathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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