Cerebrospinal fluid dynamics in Chiari malformation associated with syringomyelia

Chin Med J (Engl). 2007 Feb 5;120(3):219-23.


Background: About 50% - 70% of patients with Chiari malformation I (CMI) presented with syringomyelia (SM), which is supposed to be related to abnormal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow around the foramen magnum. The aim of this study was to investigate the cerebrospinal fluid dynamics at levels of the aqueduct and upper cervical spine in patients with CMI associated with SM, and to discuss the possible mechanism of formation of SM.

Methods: From January to April 2004, we examined 10 adult patients with symptomatic CMI associated with SM and 10 healthy volunteers by phase-contrast MRI. CSF flow patterns were evaluated at seven regions of interest (ROI): the aqueduct and ventral and dorsal subarachnoid spaces of the spine at levels of the cerebellar tonsil, C2 - 3, and C5 - 6. The CSF flow waveforms were analyzed by measuring CSF circulation time, durations and maximum velocities of cranial- and caudal-directed flows, and the ratio between the two maximum velocities. Data were analyzed by t test using SPSS 11.5.

Results: We found no definite communication between the fourth ventricle and syringomyelia by MRI in the 10 patients. In both the groups, we observed cranial-directed flow of CSF in the early cardiac systolic phase, which changed the direction from cranial to caudal from the middle systolic phase to the early diastolic phase, and then turned back in cranial direction in the late diastolic phase. The CSF flow disappeared at the dorsal ROI at the level of C2 - 3 in 3 patients and 1 volunteer, and at the level of C5 - 6 in 6 patients and 3 volunteers. The durations of CSF circulation at all the ROIs were significantly shorter in the patients than those in the healthy volunteers (P = 0.014 at the midbrain aqueduct, P = 0.019 at the inferior margin of the cerebellar tonsil, P = 0.014 at the level of C2 - 3, and P = 0.022 at the level of C5 - 6). No significant difference existed between the two groups in the initial point and duration of the caudal-directed CSF flow during a cardiac cycle at all the ROIs. The maximum velocities of both cranial- and caudal-directed CSF flows were significantly higher in the patients than those in the volunteers at the aqueduct (P = 0.018 and P = 0.007) and ventral ROI at the inferior margin of the cerebellar tonsil (P < 0.001 and P = 0.002), as so did the maximum velocities of the caudal-directed flow in the ventral and dorsal ROIs at the level of C2 - 3 (P = 0.004; P = 0.007).

Conclusions: The direction of CSF flow changes in accordance with cardiac cycle. The syringomyelia in patients with CMI may be due to the decreased circulation time and abnormal dynamics of the CSF in the upper cervical segment. The decompression of the foramen magnum with dural plasty is an alternative for patients with CMI associated with SM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / complications
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / diagnosis
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Syringomyelia / etiology*