Comparison of 4D phase-contrast MRI flow measurements to computational fluid dynamics simulations of cerebrospinal fluid motion in the cervical spine

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52284. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052284. Epub 2012 Dec 21.


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) dynamics in the cervical spinal subarachnoid space (SSS) have been thought to be important to help diagnose and assess craniospinal disorders such as Chiari I malformation (CM). In this study we obtained time-resolved three directional velocity encoded phase-contrast MRI (4D PC MRI) in three healthy volunteers and four CM patients and compared the 4D PC MRI measurements to subject-specific 3D computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations. The CFD simulations considered the geometry to be rigid-walled and did not include small anatomical structures such as nerve roots, denticulate ligaments and arachnoid trabeculae. Results were compared at nine axial planes along the cervical SSS in terms of peak CSF velocities in both the cranial and caudal direction and visual interpretation of thru-plane velocity profiles. 4D PC MRI peak CSF velocities were consistently greater than the CFD peak velocities and these differences were more pronounced in CM patients than in healthy subjects. In the upper cervical SSS of CM patients the 4D PC MRI quantified stronger fluid jets than the CFD. Visual interpretation of the 4D PC MRI thru-plane velocity profiles showed greater pulsatile movement of CSF in the anterior SSS in comparison to the posterior and reduction in local CSF velocities near nerve roots. CFD velocity profiles were relatively uniform around the spinal cord for all subjects. This study represents the first comparison of 4D PC MRI measurements to CFD of CSF flow in the cervical SSS. The results highlight the utility of 4D PC MRI for evaluation of complex CSF dynamics and the need for improvement of CFD methodology. Future studies are needed to investigate whether integration of fine anatomical structures and gross motion of the brain and/or spinal cord into the computational model will lead to a better agreement between the two techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / physiology*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / metabolism*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Humans
  • Hydrodynamics*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*

Grant support

Source of funding: Swiss National Science Foundation, Grant No. 205321_132695/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.