What is a cross-face nerve graft?
The cross-face nerve graft is a technique used in facial paralysis surgery to bring in nerve stimulation from the non-paralyzed to the paralyzed side of the face. It is similar to the concept of an extension cord. It involves obtaining a nerve graft, most commonly from the lower leg, and implanting it into the non-paralyzed part of the face.
The nerve graft is then connected to working branches of the facial nerve and tunneled to the paralyzed side of the face for innervation. It is used in one of two ways. First, in the setting of early paralysis (less than 12 months), the cross-face nerve graft can be used to reinnervate paralyzed branches of the facial nerve directly. It is used in this capacity when the neural connections (motor endplates) to the facial muscles are still intact, and when it is expected that the entire nerve regeneration process can take place before the permanent loss of these connections. Nerve regeneration occurs at an average rate of one millimeter per day. This slow rate must be taken into account when using the cross-face nerve graft for the purpose. A cross-face nerve graft will typically take 9-12 months to reach its target on the paralyzed side of the face.
Second, in long standing, or late, paralysis, the cross-face nerve graft can be used as an initial step in facial reanimation. In this first stage, the nerve graft is laid down andallowed to regenerate over the course of 6-12 months. A second stage of surgery is required to transfer a muscle to the face for innervation with the cross-face nerve graft. The muscle used most commonly is the gracilis muscle from the thigh (see Gracilis Muscle with Cross-Face Nerve Graft for further details). An additional 6-9 months is necessary in order to innervate the transplanted muscle before it can begin moving.
How is a cross-face nerve graft performed?
A nerve graft is harvested most commonly from the lower leg. This nerve is called the sural nerve, and it is responsible for a minor sensory function in the foot. Specifically, it supplies sensation to a quarter-sized patch along the outer and upper part of the midfoot. Using the nerve for grafting purposes has little downside, as it does not affect the ability to walk or run normally. The nerve is long and has minimal branching, making it an ideal candidate for nerve grafting purposes. Three small incisions are placed along the back of the lower leg to retrieve the nerve. Through these incisions, the full length of the nerve can be harvested without significant scarring.
A facelift-type incision is then placed along the non-paralyzed side of the face. The facial nerve is carefully dissected with with the help of a nerve stimulator. The exploration continues until the major branches of the facial nerve are isolated. Next, the desired branch of the facial nerve is traced further into the face until additional branches are discovered. These additional branches are verified to produce the same type of facial contractions that are desired.
Once the donor branch is isolated, it is then divided and made ready for the sural nerve graft. The sural nerve is then connected to this branch using a high-powered microscope. The graft is then tunneled underneath the skin and across the upper lip. Depending upon the intended use of the cross-face nerve graft, it can then be banked in the upper lip for future use as innervation to a gracilis muscle transplant, or it can be connected to the same nerve branch on the paralzyed side of the face. To perform the latter, an identical facelift-type incision is placed and the individual nerve branches are meticulously identified with a nerve stimulator. Once again, an operating microscope is used to make the connection with sutures that are 70 percent thinner than human hair. All incisions are closed with absorbable sutures.
Why choose Dr Panossian
- He received his medical education at Tufts University School of Medicine.
- Graduated at the top of his class at UCLA, receiving Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude honors.
- Was accepted into an elite combined general surgery and plastic surgery residency at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
- Completed subspecialty training in craniofacial surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and Harvard Medical School.
- Was mentored by Dr. Ron Zuker in the practice of facial paralysis reconstruction. This prestigious fellowship position was available to only one surgeon in the United States.
- Is affiliated with various charitable and educational organizations, including Operation Smile and Mending Kids.
- Is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the highly selective American Association of Plastic Surgeons, reserved for only a select group of individuals nationally who have demonstrated excellence in academic plastic surgery.
- Holds memberships in several other professional societies including the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery.
- He serves on the Board of Directors for Mending Kids and the Gondobay Manga Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the improvement of lives in Sierra Leone.
- Has been nominated by his peers annually since 2012 as a “Super Doctor.”
- Served as an expert medical consultant and appeared on The Doctors, Grey’s Anatomy, and Nip/Tuck.
- Has been featured as “Top Doctor” in US News and World Report, Pasadena Magazine, and Los Angeles Magazine.
Last modified by Dr. Andre Panossian