Real-time visualisation of peripheral nerve trauma during subepineural injection in pig brachial plexus using micro-ultrasound

Anu Chandra, Yohannes Soenjaya, Judy Yan, Paul Felts, Graeme McLeod (Lead / Corresponding author), Christine Demore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Nerve damage is consistently demonstrated after subepineural injection in animal studies, but not after purposeful injection in patients participating in clinical studies. There is a need to better visualise nerves in order to understand the structural changes that occur during subepineural injection.

Methods: We scanned the brachial plexuses of three anaesthetised pigs using micro-ultrasound imaging (55–22 MHz probe), inserted 21 gauge block needles into the radial, median, and axillary nerves, and injected two 0.5 ml boluses of saline into nerves at a rate of 12 ml min−1. Our objectives were to measure the area and diameter of nerves and fascicles, and to describe changes in nerve anatomy, comparing our findings with histology.

Results: Images were acquired at 42 sites across 18 nerves in three pigs and compared dimensions (geometric ratio; 95% confidence interval; P value). As expected, the nerve cross-sectional area was greater in the proximal brachial plexus compared with the mid-plexus (2.10; 1.07–4.11; P<0.001) and the distal plexus (2.64; 1.42–4.87; P<0.001). Nerve area expanded after 0.5 ml injection (2.13; 1.48–3.08; P<0.001). Using microultrasound, subepineural injection was characterised by nerve and fascicle rotation, uniform, or localised swelling and epineural rupture. Micro-ultrasound revealed a unique pattern suggestive of subperineural injection after a median nerve injection, and good face validity with histology. Histology showed epineural trauma and inflammation to the perineurium.

Conclusion: We accurately identified fascicles and real-time structural changes to peripheral nerves using micro-ultrasound. This is the first study to visualise in vivo and in real-time the motion of nerves and fascicles in response to anaesthetic needle insertion and fluid injection.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalBritish Journal of Anaesthesia
Early online date15 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 May 2021


  • histology
  • needle
  • nerve
  • nerve trauma
  • regional anaesthesia
  • subepineural
  • ultrasonography

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