Origin of subarachnoid cerebrospinal fluid pulsations: a phase-contrast MR analysis

Magn Reson Imaging. 2000 May;18(4):387-95. doi: 10.1016/s0730-725x(99)00142-3.


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pulsations result from change of blood volume in the closed craniospinal cavity. We used cine phase contrast MR analysis to determine whether spinal CSF pulsations result from spinal vascular pulsations or intracranial subarachnoid pulsations, whether intracranial CSF pulsations result from intracranial large arteries pulsations or cerebrovascular bed changes. We performed a quantified physiological mapping of CSF velocity waveforms along the craniospinal axis. Thirty-six volunteers participated in the study. MR acquisitions were obtained at the intracranial level, the upper, midcervical, cervicothoracic, mid thoracic, and/or the thoracolumbar levels. The temporal velocity information were plotted as wave form and key temporal parameters were determined and analyzed; intervals from the R wave to the onset of CSF systole, to CSF systolic peak, to the end of systole, as well as duration of systole. Three kinds of dynamic channels could be differentiated along the spinal axis, the lateral, medioventral and mediodorsal channels. Lateral spinal CSF pulse waves show significant craniocaudal propagation. No such significant progression was detected through the medial channels along the spine. Through the medial channels, a cephalic progression was observed from the upper cervical level to the intracranial level. At the craniocervical junction, mediodorsal CSF systole appeared the earliest one whereas in the anterior intracranial basal cistern, CSF systole appeared delayed. In conclusion, spinal CSF pulsations seem to result mainly from intracranial pulsations in the lateral channels, whereas local vascular pulsations could modify CSF pulse wave mainly in the medial channels. At the craniocervical junction, our results suggest that blood volume change in the richly vascularised cerebellar tonsils is the main initiating factor of CSF systole; and that spinal vascular pulsations could be considered as an additional early and variable CSF pump.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cine*
  • Male
  • Pulse
  • Rheology
  • Subarachnoid Space / physiology*
  • Systole