Pathogenesis of Chiari malformation: a morphometric study of the posterior cranial fossa

J Neurosurg. 1997 Jan;86(1):40-7. doi: 10.3171/jns.1997.86.1.0040.


To investigate overcrowding in the posterior cranial fossa as the pathogenesis of adult-type Chiari malformation, the authors studied the morphology of the brainstem and cerebellum within the posterior cranial fossa (neural structures consisting of the midbrain, pons, cerebellum, and medulla oblongata) as well as the base of the skull while taking into consideration their embryological development. Thirty patients with Chiari malformation and 50 normal control subjects were prospectively studied using neuroimaging. To estimate overcrowding, the authors used a "volume ratio" in which volume of the posterior fossa brain (consisting of the midbrain, pons, cerebellum, and medulla oblongata within the posterior cranial fossa) was placed in a ratio with the volume of the posterior fossa cranium encircled by bony and tentorial structures. Compared to the control group, in the Chiari group there was a significantly larger volume ratio, the two occipital enchondral parts (the exocciput and supraocciput) were significantly smaller, and the tentorium was pronouncedly steeper. There was no significant difference in the posterior fossa brain volume or in the axial lengths of the hindbrain (the brainstem and cerebellum). In six patients with basilar invagination the medulla oblongata was herniated, all three occipital enchondral parts (the basiocciput, exocciput, and supraocciput) were significantly smaller than in the control group, and the volume ratio was significantly larger than that in the Chiari group without basilar invagination. These results suggest that in adult-type Chiari malformation an underdeveloped occipital bone, possibly due to underdevelopment of the occipital somite originating from the paraxial mesoderm, induces overcrowding in the posterior cranial fossa, which contains the normally developed hindbrain. Basilar invagination is associated with a more severe downward herniation of the hindbrain due to the more severely underdeveloped occipital enchondrium, which further exacerbates overcrowding of the posterior cranial fossa.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / diagnostic imaging
  • Arnold-Chiari Malformation / pathology*
  • Cranial Fossa, Posterior / diagnostic imaging
  • Cranial Fossa, Posterior / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed