Cervical medullary syndrome secondary to craniocervical instability and ventral brainstem compression in hereditary hypermobility connective tissue disorders: 5-year follow-up after craniocervical reduction, fusion, and stabilization

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Neurosurgical Review


A great deal of literature has drawn attention to the "complex Chiari," wherein the presence of instability or ventral brainstem compression prompts consideration for addressing both concerns at the time of surgery. This report addresses the clinical and radiological features and surgical outcomes in a consecutive series of subjects with hereditary connective tissue disorders (HCTD) and Chiari malformation. In 2011 and 2012, 22 consecutive patients with cervical medullary syndrome and geneticist-confirmed hereditary connective tissue disorder (HCTD), with Chiari malformation (type 1 or 0) and kyphotic clivo-axial angle (CXA) enrolled in the IRB-approved study (IRB# 10-036-06: GBMC). Two subjects were excluded on the basis of previous cranio-spinal fusion or unrelated medical issues. Symptoms, patient satisfaction, and work status were assessed by a third-party questionnaire, pain by visual analog scale (0-10/10), neurologic exams by neurosurgeon, function by Karnofsky performance scale (KPS). Pre- and post-operative radiological measurements of clivo-axial angle (CXA), the Grabb-Mapstone-Oakes measurement, and Harris measurements were made independently by neuroradiologist, with pre- and post-operative imaging (MRI and CT), 10/20 with weight-bearing, flexion, and extension MRI. All subjects underwent open reduction, stabilization occiput to C2, and fusion with rib autograft. There was 100% follow-up (20/20) at 2 and 5 years. Patients were satisfied with the surgery and would do it again given the same circumstances (100%). Statistically significant improvement was seen with headache (8.2/10 pre-op to 4.5/10 post-op, p < 0.001, vertigo (92%), imbalance (82%), dysarthria (80%), dizziness (70%), memory problems (69%), walking problems (69%), function (KPS) (p < 0.001). Neurological deficits improved in all subjects. The CXA average improved from 127° to 148° (p < 0.001). The Grabb-Oakes and Harris measurements returned to normal. Fusion occurred in 100%. There were no significant differences between the 2- and 5-year period. Two patients returned to surgery for a superficial wound infections, and two required transfusion. All patients who had rib harvests had pain related that procedure (3/10), which abated by 5 years. The results support the literature, that open reduction of the kyphotic CXA to lessen ventral brainstem deformity, and fusion/stabilization to restore stability in patients with HCTD is feasible, associated with a low surgical morbidity, and results in enduring improvement in pain and function. Rib harvest resulted in pain for several years in almost all subjects.

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Publication Date

Winter 12-2019