Myelomeningocele (MMC) is characterized by paraplegia and incontinence, often necessitating surgery. Current models of MMC in sheep and primates create a spinal defect long after anomalous neural tube closure ordinarily occurs. An ideal model of MMC would allow creation of the defect at the earliest age in a low-cost species with a short gestation. We present a method utilizing the holmium laser to create spinal defects in rabbits in utero for the study of the pathophysiology and repair of MMC. Pregnant rabbits of 22 to 23 days' gestational age were prepared and draped in sterile fashion for laparotomy under general anesthesia. The abdomen was opened, and both uterine horns were inspected. Double opposing pursestring sutures were placed to secure the chorioamniotic membranes over the fetal lumbar spine. Amniotic fluid was removed with a needle and saved. Electrocautery was used to open the uterus within the pursestring suture, exposing the fetal dorsum. The spine was exposed by laser dissection of the fetal dorsal musculature. Posterior laminectomy was accomplished with laser incisions of each side of the spinous process, leaving the underlying dura and cord exposed. The pursestring was then cinched, amniotic fluid was returned, and the uterus and trocar sites were closed. Cesarian section was performed at 30 to 31 gestational days, and the pups were examined and then humanely sacrificed for histologic evaluation of the lesion. The rabbit is an inexpensive species with a short gestation (33-35 days), and four or more fetuses may be operated on per litter, with the remainder serving as controls. Utilization of minimally invasive techniques including holmium:YAG laser dissection facilitates creation of spinal defects at an early age in this small-animal model.
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