New insights into the surgical anatomy of the esophagus
Implementation of (robot assisted) minimally invasive esophagectomy and increased knowledge of the relation between the autonomic nervous system and the immune response have led to new insights regarding the surgical anatomy of the esophagus. First, two layers of connective tissue were identified; the aorto-esophageal and aorto-pleural ligaments that separate the peri-esophageal compartment, containing vagus nerves, carinal lymph nodes and trachea, from the para-aortic compartment; containing thoracic duct and azygos vein. Second the surgical anatomy of the pulmonary vagus nerve branches has been described in detail. Based on the hypothesis that sparing the vagal nerve branches may be important a method to spare the pulmonary branches of the vagus nerve during thoracoscopic esophagectomy was validated in a cadaver study. Further studies will now investigate the impact of these new insights in the surgical anatomy of the esophagus in clinical practice.