Upright versus supine MRI: effects of body position on craniocervical CSF flow

Fluids Barriers CNS. 2021 Dec 24;18(1):61. doi: 10.1186/s12987-021-00296-7.


Background: Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) circulation between the brain and spinal canal, as part of the glymphatic system, provides homeostatic support to brain functions and waste clearance. Recently, it has been observed that CSF flow is strongly driven by cardiovascular brain pulsation, and affected by body orientation. The advancement of MRI has allowed for non-invasive examination of the CSF hydrodynamic properties. However, very few studies have addressed their relationship with body position (e.g., upright versus supine). It is important to understand how CSF hydrodynamics are altered by body position change in a single cardiac phase and how cumulative long hours staying in either upright or supine position can affect craniocervical CSF flow.

Methods: In this study, we investigate the changes in CSF flow at the craniocervical region with flow-sensitive MRI when subjects are moved from upright to supine position. 30 healthy volunteers were imaged in upright and supine positions using an upright MRI. The cranio-caudal and caudo-cranial CSF flow, velocity and stroke volume were measured at the C2 spinal level over one cardiac cycle using phase contrast MRI. Statistical analysis was performed to identify differences in CSF flow properties between the two positions.

Results: CSF stroke volume per cardiac cycle, representing CSF volume oscillating in and out of the cranium, was ~ 57.6% greater in supine (p < 0.0001), due to a ~ 83.8% increase in caudo-cranial CSF peak velocity during diastole (p < 0.0001) and extended systolic phase duration when moving from upright (0.25 ± 0.05 s) to supine (0.34 ± 0.08 s; p < 0.0001). Extrapolation to a 24 h timeframe showed significantly larger total CSF volume exchanged at C2 with 10 h spent supine versus only 5 h (p < 0.0001).

Conclusions: In summary, body position has significant effects on CSF flow in and out of the cranium, with more CSF oscillating in supine compared to upright position. Such difference was driven by an increased caudo-cranial diastolic CSF velocity and an increased systolic phase duration when moving from upright to supine position. Extrapolation to a 24 h timeframe suggests that more time spent in supine position increases total amount of CSF exchange, which may play a beneficial role in waste clearance in the brain.

Keywords: Body position; CSF hydrodynamics; Central nervous system; Cerebrospinal fluid; Neurofluids; Waste clearance.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cervical Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sitting Position*
  • Skull / diagnostic imaging
  • Supine Position*