Cerebrospinal fluid flow in foramen magnum: temporal and spatial patterns at MR imaging in volunteers and in patients with Chiari I malformation

Radiology. 2004 Jul;232(1):229-36. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2321030666. Epub 2004 May 20.


Purpose: To measure spatial and temporal variations in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow through the cardiac cycle and throughout the subarachnoid space at magnetic resonance (MR) imaging in volunteer subjects with no known neurologic or spinal problems and in patients with Chiari I malformation.

Materials and methods: A cardiac-gated phase-contrast MR technique was used to acquire images at 14 time points evenly spaced through the cardiac cycle in 10 volunteers and eight patients with Chiari I malformation. Instantaneous CSF velocities were displayed as temporal and spatial plots and examined for homogeneity, differences between flow anterior and flow posterior to the spinal cord, synchronous bidirectional flow, and equivalence of the caudad flow and craniad flow in each voxel. Indexes for flow homogeneity, synchronous bidirectional flow, and preferential flow direction were calculated, and differences between the patient and volunteer groups were tested for significance with a t test of the means.

Results: In volunteers, diastolic velocity peaked in two regions in the anterior paramedial subarachnoid space. Patients had greater inhomogeneity of flow than volunteers. They had substantially increased flow (jets) in the anterior paramedial locations. Synchronous bidirectional flow was seen in six of the patients and in none of the volunteers. Cephalad flow in the jets or nodes (P =.05), proportion of cephalad and caudad flow in the anterior compartment (P <.005 for both), and the fraction of voxels with flow directionality (P =.03) differed significantly between patients and volunteers.

Conclusion: CSF flow in symptomatic patients with Chiari I malformation, unlike that in volunteer subjects, is characterized by flow jets, regions with a preponderance of flow in one direction, and synchronous bidirectional flow.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / physiology*
  • Diastole
  • Female
  • Foramen Magnum*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Contraction / physiology
  • Subarachnoid Space