Multi-level sagittally cleft vertebrae: a case report and review of the literature

Surg Radiol Anat. 2021 Jan;43(1):127-130. doi: 10.1007/s00276-020-02517-4. Epub 2020 Jun 14.


The term "sagittal cleft vertebra" (SCV) denotes a rare embryologically derived longitudinal defect within the vertebral body, which is clinically and radiologically challenging to diagnose in isolation. This defect results in two hemivertebrae, which ossify discordantly, ultimately leading to a sagittal cleft through the vertebral body. Often presenting with low back pain or concomitant with an associated syndromic illness, SCV is often found incidentally and can mimic vertebral compression fractures radiographically. Treatment of SCV has largely been conservative and symptomatic. With only 109 reported cases in the current literature, we present a unique case of multiple SCV throughout the thoracolumbar region in an adolescent patient. We performed a review of the literature to identify published cases of SCV to date. We searched PUBMED using the terms "sagittal cleft vertebrae", "butterfly vertebrae", and "anterior rachischisis". Abstracts were screened for reports specifically involving original cases of SCV. Given the well-established association with syndromic illnesses, finding an SCV warrants further investigation for other abnormalities of the musculoskeletal, cardiac, and genitourinary systems. Complex management strategies are rare unless the SCV is associated with an aberrant syndrome, disc herniation or severe musculoskeletal abnormality, or symptomatic disc herniation requiring surgical management. Further studies should focus on uncovering the genetic markers leading to the cleft vertebral bodies, with a focus on early screening and monitoring of patients who could be predisposed to the condition.

Keywords: Anterior rachischisis; Butterfly vertebrae; Cleft vertebra; Sagittal cleft vertebrae.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / abnormalities*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / abnormalities*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Vertebral Body / abnormalities*
  • Vertebral Body / diagnostic imaging