Craniovertebral junction: normal anatomy, craniometry, and congenital anomalies

Radiographics. 1994 Mar;14(2):255-77. doi: 10.1148/radiographics.14.2.8190952.


The craniovertebral junction (CVJ) comprises the occiput, atlas, and axis and is visible in most magnetic resonance (MR) imaging studies of the brain. Craniometric measurements used in radiologic assessment of CVJ anomalies include the Chamberlain line, Wackenheim clivus baseline, Welcher basal angle, and atlantooccipital joint axis angle. Most anomalies of the occiput are associated with decreased skull base height and basilar invagination, the latter being a primary developmental anomaly in which the vertebral column is abnormally high and prolapsed into the skull base. Occiput anomalies include condylus tertius, condylar hypoplasia, basiocciput hypoplasia, and atlanto-occipital assimilation. Most atlas anomalies produce no abnormal CVJ relationships and are not associated with basilar invagination. These anomalies include aplasias, hypoplasias, and clefts of the atlas arches and "split atlas" (ie, posterior arch rachischisis associated with anterior arch rachischisis). Except for fusion anomalies, abnormalities of the axis are primarily confined to the odontoid process and are not associated with basilar invagination. These anomalies include persistent ossiculum terminale, odontoid aplasia, and os odontoideum. With the widespread availability of MR imaging, which is well suited for evaluating the CVJ because of its direct sagittal imaging capabilities, renewed understanding of CVJ anatomy and anomalies is important for all radiologists.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / abnormalities
  • Atlanto-Axial Joint / anatomy & histology
  • Atlanto-Occipital Joint / abnormalities
  • Atlanto-Occipital Joint / anatomy & histology
  • Axis, Cervical Vertebra / abnormalities*
  • Axis, Cervical Vertebra / anatomy & histology*
  • Cephalometry / methods
  • Cervical Atlas / abnormalities*
  • Cervical Atlas / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Occipital Bone / abnormalities*
  • Occipital Bone / anatomy & histology*
  • Odontoid Process / abnormalities
  • Odontoid Process / anatomy & histology