Vascularized Composite Allotransplantation of the Elbow Joint: A Cadaveric Study

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Abstract

Background

Surgical options for the unreconstructable elbow are limited to arthrodesis, total arthroplasty, or osteoarticular allograft reconstruction. Each of these options is limited by severe functional impairment and/or high complication rates. Vascularized allotransplantation of the elbow joint has the potential to mitigate these complications. In this study, we describe our technique for harvesting the elbow for vascularized joint transplantation and demonstrate the flap's vascularity using contrast angiography.

Methods

Anatomical studies were used to design and harvest a vascularized elbow joint flap pedicled on the brachial vessels in 10 cadaveric arms. Diaphyseal blood supply is provided by 3 nutrient arteries, and periarticular supply arises from the various collateral arteries of the arm and recurrent arteries of the forearm. The brachialis and supinator, and their respective nerves, were included as functional muscles because of their intimate association with critical vasculature. Tendinous insertions of the biceps and triceps, as well as the flexor/pronator and extensor origins, were preserved for repair in the transplant recipient. Both lateral arm and radial forearm flaps were preserved to aid in soft tissue inset as well as vascular/immunologic monitoring. Contrast angiography of each dissected specimen was performed to assess the location of the nutrient vessels and assess flap vascularity, as indicated by filling of the critical extraosseous and endosteal vessels.

Results

Angiographic imaging of 10 specimens demonstrated that this flap dissection preserves the nutrient endosteal supply to the humeral, radial, and ulnar diaphysis, in addition to the critical extraosseous arterial structures perfusing the elbow joint and periarticular tissues. From proximal to distal, these arteries are the musculoperiosteal radial, posterior branch of the radial collateral, inferior ulnar collateral, recurrent interosseous, radial recurrent, and the anterior and the posterior ulnar recurrent.

Conclusions

Vascularized composite allotransplantation of the elbow joint holds promise as a motion and function preserving option for young, high-demand patients with a sensate and functional hand, who would otherwise be limited by the restrictions of total elbow arthroplasty or fusion. In this study, we propose a flap design and technique for harvest and also offered vascular imaging–based evidence that this flap is adequately vascularized.

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