Microsurgical anatomy and approaches to the cavernous sinus

Neurosurgery. 2005 Jan;56(1 Suppl):4-27; discussion 4-27. doi: 10.1227/01.neu.0000144208.42171.02.


Objective: The aim of this article is to describe the anatomy of the cavernous sinus and to provide a guide for use when performing surgery in this complex area. Clinical cases are used to illustrate routes to the cavernous sinus and its contents and to demonstrate how the cavernous sinus can be used as a pathway for exposure of deeper structures.

Methods: Thirty cadaveric cavernous sinuses were examined using x3 to x40 magnification after the arteries and veins were injected with colored silicone. Distances between the entrance of the oculomotor and trochlear nerves and the posterior clinoid process were recorded. Stepwise dissections of the cavernous sinuses, performed to demonstrate the intradural and extradural routes, are accompanied by intraoperative photographs of those approaches.

Results: The anatomy of the cavernous sinus is complex because of the high density of critically important neural and vascular structures. Selective cases demonstrate how a detailed knowledge of cavernous sinus anatomy can provide for safer surgery with low morbidity.

Conclusion: A precise understanding of the bony relationships and neurovascular contents of the cavernous sinus, together with the use of cranial base and microsurgical techniques, has allowed neurosurgeons to approach the cavernous sinus with reduced morbidity and mortality, changing the natural history of selected lesions in this region. Complete resection of cavernous sinus meningiomas has proven to be difficult and, in many cases, impossible without causing significant morbidity. However, surgical reduction of such lesions enhances the chances for success of subsequent therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cavernous Sinus / anatomy & histology*
  • Cavernous Sinus / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Microsurgery / methods*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods*