The "subdural" space: a new look at an outdated concept

Neurosurgery. 1993 Jan;32(1):111-20. doi: 10.1227/00006123-199301000-00017.


This review considers the structure of the meninges, as seen at the electron microscopic level, with particular emphasis on the dura-arachnoid junction and whether a naturally occurring space is found at this interface. The classic view has been that a so-called subdural space is located between the arachnoid and dura and that subdural hematomas or hygromas are the result of blood or cerebrospinal fluid accumulating in this (preexisting) space. The dura is composed of elongated, flattened fibroblasts and copious amounts of extracellular collagen. A specialized layer of fibroblasts, the dural border cell layer, is found at the dura-arachnoid junction and is characterized by flattened fibroblasts, no extracellular collagen, extracellular spaces, and few cell junctions. These features combine to create a layer of the inner dura that is structurally weak when compared with external portions of the dura and the internally located arachnoid. The arachnoid layer is composed of larger cells with numerous cell junctions, no extracellular space, and no extracellular collagen. The occurrence of many tight junctions in this layer also serves as a barrier to the movement of fluids and ions. Fibroblasts specialized to form the arachnoid trabeculae attach to the inner surface of the arachnoid layer, bridge the subarachnoid space, and surround vessels in the subarachnoid space as well as attach to pia on the surface of the brain. Under normal conditions, there is no evidence of a naturally occurring space being extant at the dura-arachnoid junction. A space may appear at this point subsequent to pathological/traumatic processes that result in tissue damage with a cleaving opening of the structurally weakest plane in the meninges--through the dural border cell layer. Furthermore, when a space does appear, it is not "subdural" in location but rather within a morphologically distinct cell layer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / physiology*
  • Dura Mater / pathology*
  • Hematoma, Subdural / pathology
  • Humans
  • Meninges / pathology*
  • Subdural Space / pathology*