Indexed on: 03 Oct '07Published on: 03 Oct '07Published in: Neurosurgery
The course of the lesser petrosal nerve is not well understood and may be confused with the course of the greater petrosal nerve during middle fossa surgery. The objective was to examine the course of the lesser petrosal nerve along the floor of the middle cranial fossa from the region of the geniculate ganglion to its outlet from the skull base. There are no studies focused on the course of this nerve in relationship to the floor of the middle cranial fossa.Twenty middle fossae from adult cadaveric specimens were examined using 3 to 40x magnification.The lesser petrosal nerve was partially exposed on the floor of the middle fossa without drilling in 75% of the middle fossae and totally covered by thin bone in 25%. It crossed the floor anterior to the greater petrosal nerve and exited the middle fossa through the canaliculus innominatus in 14 cases, foramen spinosum in 3 cases, and the sphenopetrosal suture in 3 cases. The course of the lesser petrosal nerve has been shown in textbooks to be parallel to the greater petrosal nerve. However, the lesser and greater petrosal nerves diverged in the area medial to the geniculate ganglion in 90% of middle fossae with the angle of divergence averaging 11.6 degrees. The course of the lesser petrosal nerve was divided into three patterns based on the site of confluence of the three bundles of fibers forming the nerve.The relationships of the lesser petrosal nerve in the middle cranial fossa have been described. An understanding of these relationships will reduce the likelihood of it being confused with the greater petrosal nerve during surgical approaches to the middle fossa.