Neuroanatomical basis of Sandifer's syndrome: a new vagal reflex?

Med Hypotheses. 2008;70(5):957-61. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.09.011. Epub 2007 Nov 26.


Sandifer's syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder with neurological features. It is characterized by reflex torticollis following deglutition in patients with gastroesophageal reflux and/or hiatal hernia. The authors believe that neurological manifestations of the syndrome are the consequence of vagal reflex with the reflex center in nucleus tractus solitarii (NTS). Three models for the neuroanatomical basis of the hypothetic reflex arc are presented. In the first one the hypothetic reflex arc is based on the classic hypothesis of two components nervus accessorius (n.XI) - radix cranialis (RC) and radix spinalis (RS) The nervous impulses are transmitted by nervus vagus (n.X) general visceral afferent (GVA) fibers to NTS situated in medulla oblongata, then by interneuronal connections on nucleus ambiguus (NA) and nucleus dorsalis nervi vagi (NDX). Special visceral efferent fibers (SVE) impulses from NA are in part transferred to n.XI ramus externus (RE) (carrying the majority of general somatic efferent (GSE) fibers) via hypothetic anastomoses in the region of foramen jugulare. This leads to contraction of trapezius and sternocleidomastoideus muscles, and the occurrence of intermittent torticollis. In the second suggested neuroanatomical model the hypothetic reflex arc is organized in the absence of n.XI RC, the efferent part of the reflex arc continues as NA, which is motor nucleus of nervus glossopharyngeus (n.IX) and n.X in this case while distal roots of n.XI that appear at the level of the olivary nucleus lower edge represent n.X roots. In the third presented model the hypothetic reflex arc includes no jugular transfer and could be realized via interneuronal connections directly from NTS to the spinal motoneurons within nucleus radicis spinalis nervi accessorii (NRS n.XI) or from NA to NRS n.XI. The afferent segment of the postulated reflex arc in all three models is mediated via n.X. We conclude that Sandifer's syndrome is a clinical manifestation of another vagal reflex that could be termed a "vagocervical" or "esophagocervical" reflex, based on the neuroanatomical hypotheses elaborated in this paper.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Motor Neurons / pathology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Reflex*
  • Respiratory System Abnormalities / etiology
  • Respiratory System Abnormalities / pathology*
  • Syndrome
  • Vagus Nerve / pathology*