Introduction: Cerebellar mutism (CM) is defined as a peculiar form of mutism that may complicate the surgical excision of posterior cranial fossa tumor. The incidence is variable in the literature, occurring in up to one third of cases in some series. Commonly occurring peculiar features of CM are delayed onset following surgery, limited duration, and spontaneous recovery usually associated with dysarthria.
Methods: A review has been performed concerning anatomical substrates and circuits actually considered to be involved in the development of cerebellar mutism, as well as risk factors for its development that have been documented in the literature. Attention has also been given to the long-term prognosis and the possibilities of rehabilitation that can be considered in these children, which has been compared with the authors' institutional experience.
Results and conclusions: Tumor infiltration of the brainstem seems to represent the most relevant feature related to the development of CM, along with the histological diagnosis of medulloblastoma. On the other hand, hydrocephalus does not represent an independent risk factor. The higher rate of CM in children seems to be related to the higher incidence in children of tumors with malignant histology and brain stem involvement. Surgical technique does not seem to have a definite role; in particular, the use of a telovelar approach as compared to vermian split to reach the fourth ventricle extension of the tumor has not been demonstrated to prevent the development of cerebellar mutism. Concerning long-term prognosis, around one third of the children who develop cerebellar mutism after surgery have a persistent dysarthria, the remaining ones showing a residual phonological impairment. Long-term dysarthric features tend to be more severe and less prone to recovery in children presenting at diagnosis with associated combined procedural memory and defective neurocognitive functions.
Keywords: Astrocytoma; Ependymoma; Medulloblastoma; Mutism; Mutism and subsequent dysarthria; Posterior cranial fossa syndrome; Posterior fossa tumors.