Transsphenoidal management of 28 symptomatic Rathke's cleft cysts, with special reference to visual and hormonal recovery

Neurosurgery. 1998 Jan;42(1):7-16; discussion 16-7. doi: 10.1097/00006123-199801000-00003.


Objective: This is a retrospective study of a series of 28 Rathke's cleft cysts operated on transsphenoidally that was undertaken for the following reasons: 1) to study the presentation, with particular reference to hormonal and visual disturbances; 2) to study postoperative improvements in endocrine function and vision; 3) to record postoperative complications; and 4) to assess the efficacy of a minor modification of the standard transsphenoidal surgical technique, whereby the cyst is allowed to drain directly into the sphenoid air sinus without fossa floor repair when there is no intraoperative cerebrospinal fluid leak.

Methods: A retrospective study was made of case notes, radiological findings, and operative notes in the series.

Results: There were 16 female and 12 male patients, with a mean age of 45 years. Endocrine disturbance was the most common presentation (50%), followed by headaches (32.1%) and visual impairment (14.3%). Neuroophthalmological assessment showed central visual acuity and field deficits in 32.1 and 44.6% of eyes, respectively. Biochemically, 85.7% of patients showed hormonal disturbances. Magnetic resonance imaging was used for 84.7% of cases, and 60.7% of cases showed suprasellar extension. Four magnetic resonance imaging patterns were noted. All cases were operated on transsphenoidally. Postoperative complications included cerebrospinal fluid rhinorrhea (7.1%), diabetes insipidus (3.6%), and meningitis (3.6%). Recovery of visual acuity and field was seen in 66.6 and 68% of eyes, respectively. Postoperative prolactin levels declined to normal or nearly normal values in 62.5% of cases, 20% of cases with low preoperative gonadotrophin levels achieved normal levels, and 15.4% of cases with preoperative pan-hypopituitarism achieved normal serum cortisol levels postoperatively. Within the study period there were no recurrences; although a relatively short time interval is presented for this series, a patient with a similar lesion operated on by the same method 7 years previously remains well, without radiological evidence of recurrence.

Conclusion: Although comparatively rare and benign lesions, Rathke's cleft cysts are an important cause of hormonal and visual disturbances. Transsphenoidal surgery is safe and efficacious and leads to excellent improvement of function in the majority of cases. The surgical modification described seems safe and satisfactory and is extremely easy to perform.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Craniopharyngioma / diagnosis
  • Craniopharyngioma / physiopathology*
  • Craniopharyngioma / surgery*
  • Female
  • Hormones / blood*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Pituitary Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*


  • Hormones