Rotational vertebral artery syndrome: 3D kinematics of nystagmus suggest bilateral labyrinthine dysfunction

J Neurol. 2008 May;255(5):663-7. doi: 10.1007/s00415-008-0773-2. Epub 2008 Feb 18.


Whether the rotational vertebral artery syndrome (RVAS), consisting of attacks of vertigo, nystagmus and tinnitus elicited by head-rotation induced compression of the dominant vertebral artery (VA), reflects ischemic dysfunction of uni- or bilateral peripheral or central vestibular structures, is still debated. We report on a patient with bilateral high-grade carotid stenoses, in whom rightward headrotation led to RVAS symptoms including a prominent nystagmus. Three-dimensional kinematic analysis of the nystagmus pattern, recorded with search coils, revealed major downbeat nystagmus with minor horizontal and torsional components. Magnetic resonance angiography demonstrated a hypoplastic right VA terminating in the posterior inferior cerebellar artery, a dominant left VA, and a hypoplastic P1-segment of the left posterior cerebral artery (PCA) that was supplied by the left posterior communicating artery (PCoA). The right PCA and both anterior inferior cerebellar arteries were supplied by the basilar artery. The right PCoA originated from the right internal carotid artery. Color duplex sonography showed severe reduction of diastolic blood flow velocities in the left VA during RVAS attacks. The nystagmus pattern can be best explained by vectorial addition of 3D sensitivity vectors of stimulated right and left anterior and horizontal semicircular canals with slightly stronger stimulation on the left side. We hypothesize that in RVAS, compression of dominant VA leads to acute vertebrobasilar insufficiency with bilateral, but asymmetric ischemia of the superior labyrinth. With regard to RVAS etiology, our case illustrates a type of pure vascular RVAS. Severity of attacks markedly decreased after successful bilateral carotid endarterectomy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Brain Stem / blood supply
  • Brain Stem / physiopathology
  • Carotid Stenosis / complications*
  • Carotid Stenosis / pathology
  • Carotid Stenosis / surgery
  • Cerebellum / blood supply
  • Cerebellum / physiopathology
  • Endarterectomy, Carotid
  • Functional Laterality
  • Head Movements
  • Humans
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / complications
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / pathology
  • Ischemic Attack, Transient / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / etiology
  • Nystagmus, Pathologic / physiopathology
  • Rotation / adverse effects
  • Syndrome
  • Vertebral Artery / abnormalities*
  • Vertebral Artery / physiopathology*
  • Vertebral Artery / surgery
  • Vertebrobasilar Insufficiency / complications
  • Vertebrobasilar Insufficiency / pathology
  • Vertebrobasilar Insufficiency / physiopathology*
  • Vertigo / etiology
  • Vertigo / physiopathology
  • Vestibular Diseases / etiology
  • Vestibular Diseases / physiopathology*