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Ryszard M. Pluta, Scott D. Wait, John A. Butman, Kathleen A. Leppig, Alexander O. Vortmeyer, Edward H. Oldfield, and Russell R. Lonser

Hemangioblastomas are histologically benign neoplasms that occur sporadically or as part of von Hippel–Lindau disease. Hemangioblastomas may occur anywhere along the neuraxis, but sacral hemangioblastomas are extremely rare. To identify features that will help guide the operative and clinical management of these lesions, the authors describe the management of a large von Hippel–Lindau disease–associated sacral hemangioblastoma and review the literature.

The authors present the case of a 38-year-old woman with von Hippel–Lindau disease and a 10-year history of progressive back pain, as well as left lower-extremity pain and numbness. Neurological examination revealed decreased sensation in the left S-1 and S-2 dermatomes. Magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated a large enhancing lesion in the sacral region, with associated erosion of the sacrum. The patient underwent arteriography and embolization of the tumor and then resection. The histopathological diagnosis was consistent with hemangioblastoma and showed intrafascicular tumor infiltration of the S-2 nerve root. At 1-year follow-up examination, pain had resolved and numbness improved.

Sacral nerve root hemangioblastomas may be safely removed in most patients, resulting in stabilization or improvement in symptomatology. Generally, hemangioblastomas of the sacral nerve roots should be removed when they cause symptoms. Because they originate from the nerve root, the nerve root from which the hemangioblastoma originates must be sacrificed to achieve complete resection.

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Russell R. Lonser, Scott D. Wait, John A. Butman, Alexander O. Vortmeyer, McClellan M. Walther, Lance S. Governale, and Edward H. Oldfield


Hemangioblastomas in the lumbosacral region are rare, and the authors of prior reports have not defined the surgical management, histopathological features, or outcome in a group of patients after resection of these tumors. To identify features that will help guide the operative and clinical management of these lesions, the authors reviewed data obtained in a series of patients with von Hippel—Lindau syndrome who underwent resection of lumbosacral nerve root hemangioblastomas.


Six consecutive patients (three men and three women; mean age at surgery 39 years [range 31–48 years]) who underwent operations for resection of lumbosacral nerve root hemangioblastomas were included in this study. The mean follow-up period was 23 months (range 6–45 months). Data derived from examination, hospital charts, operative findings, histopathological analysis, and magnetic resonance imaging were used to analyze surgical management and clinical outcome. The resected tumors were located in the lumbar (five cases) or sacral (one case) regions; the mean tumor size was 2728 mm3 (range 80–15,022 mm3). Consistent with central nervous system (CNS) regional variation of space available to accommodate the neural compressive effect of the hemangioblastoma size, the mean tumor volume (2728 mm3) of these symptomatic lesions was much larger than that of symptomatic hemangioblastomas resected in the other regions of the CNS. Histopathological examination showed infiltration of the associated nerve root by the hemangioblastoma in each case. In five of the six patients complete resection was achieved, and in one patient intradural exploration of two hemangioblastomas was performed, but resection was not achieved because of motor root involvement. In all cases involving complete resections the patients experienced symptomatic improvement.


Lumbosacral nerve root hemangioblastomas can be safely removed in most patients with von Hippel—Lindau syndrome. Generally, hemangioblastomas of the lumbosacral nerve roots should be resected when they become symptomatic. Because these neoplasms appear to originate from the nerve root, it is necessary to sacrifice the nerve root from which the hemangioblastoma originates to achieve complete resection.

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John E. Wanebo, Russell R. Lonser, Gladys M. Glenn, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. The goals of this study were to define the natural history and growth pattern of hemangioblastomas of the central nervous system (CNS) that are associated with von Hippel—Lindau (VHL) disease and to correlate features of hemangioblastomas that are associated with the development of symptoms and the need for treatment.

Methods. The authors reviewed serial magnetic resonance images and clinical histories of 160 consecutive patients with VHL disease who harbored CNS hemangioblastomas and serially measured the volumes of tumors and associated cysts.

Six hundred fifty-five hemangioblastomas were identified in the cerebellum (250 tumors), brainstem (64 tumors, all of which were located in the posterior medulla oblongata), spinal cord (331 tumors, 96% of which were located in the posterior half of spinal cord), and the supratentorial brain (10 tumors). The symptoms were related to a mass effect. A serial increase in hemangioblastoma size was observed in cerebellar, brainstem, and spinal cord tumors as patients progressed from being asymptomatic to symptomatic and requiring surgery (p < 0.0001). Twenty-one (72%) of 29 symptom-producing cerebellar tumors had an associated cyst, whereas only 28 (13%) of 221 nonsymptomatic cerebellar tumors had tumor-associated cysts (p < 0.0001). Nine (75%) of 12 symptomatic brainstem tumors had associated cysts, compared with only four (8%) of 52 nonsymptomatic brainstem lesions (p < 0.0001). By the time the symptoms appeared and surgery was required, the cyst was larger than the causative tumor; cerebellar and brainstem cysts measured 34 and 19 times the size of their associated tumors at surgery, respectively. Ninety-five percent of symptom-producing spinal hemangioblastomas were associated with syringomyelia.

The clinical circumstance was dynamic. Among the 88 patients who had undergone serial imaging for 6 months or longer (median 32 months), 164 (44%) of 373 hemangioblastomas and 37 (67%) of 55 tumor-associated cysts enlarged. No tumors or cysts spontaneously diminished in size. Symptomatic cerebellar and brainstem tumors grew at rates six and nine times greater, respectively, than asymptomatic tumors in the same regions. Cysts enlarged seven (cerebellum) and 15 (brainstem) times faster than the hemangioblastomas causing them. Hemangioblastomas frequently demonstrated a pattern of growth in which they would enlarge for a period of time (growth phase) and then stabilize in a period of arrested growth (quiescent phase). Of 69 patients with documented tumor growth, 18 (26%) harbored tumors with at least two growth phases. Of 160 patients with hemangioblastomas, 34 patients (median follow up 51 months) were found to have 115 new hemangioblastomas and 15 patients new tumor-associated cysts.

Conclusions. In this study the authors define the natural history of CNS hemangioblastomas associated with VHL disease. Not only were cysts commonly associated with cerebellar, brainstem, and spinal hemangioblastomas, the pace of enlargement was much faster for cysts than for hemangioblastomas. By the time symptoms appeared, the majority of mass effect—producing symptoms derived from the cyst, rather than from the tumor causing the cyst. These tumors often have multiple periods of tumor growth separated by periods of arrested growth, and many untreated tumors may remain the same size for several years. These characteristics must be considered when determining the optimal timing of screening for individual patients and for evaluating the timing and results of treatment.

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Robert J. Weil, Russell R. Lonser, Hetty L. Devroom, John E. Wanebo, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. Hemangioblastomas of the brainstem constitute 5 to 10% of central nervous system (CNS) tumors in patients with von Hippel—Lindau (VHL) disease. At present, optimal management of brainstem hemangioblastomas associated with VHL disease is incompletely defined. In an attempt to clarify some of the uncertainty about the operative treatment of these lesions and its outcome, the authors reviewed all cases of VHL disease in which resection of brainstem hemangioblastomas was performed at the National Institutes of Health during a 10-year period.

Methods. Twelve consecutive patients with VHL disease (six male and six female patients [mean age 31.7 ± 9 years; range 15–46 years]) who underwent 13 operations to remove 17 brainstem hemangioblastomas were included in this study (mean follow-up period, 88.4 ± 37.4 months; range 37–144 months). Serial examinations, hospital charts, magnetic resonance images, and operative records were reviewed. To evaluate clinical course, clinical grades were assigned to each patient before and after surgery.

Preoperative neurological function was the best predictor of long-term outcome. In addition, patients who underwent CNS surgeries for hemangioblastomas were more likely to improve or to remain neurologically stable. Tumor or cyst size, the presence of a cyst, or the location of the tumor (intramedullary, extramedullary, or mixed; posterior medullary, obex, or lateral) did not affect outcome. No patient was neurologically worse after brainstem surgery. At long-term follow-up review (mean 88.4 months), only one patient had declined neurologically and this was due to the cumulative neurological effects caused by eight additional hemangioblastomas of the spinal cord and their surgical treatment.

Conclusions. Brainstem hemangioblastomas in patients with VHL disease can be removed safely; they generally should be resected when they become symptomatic or when the tumor has reached a size such that further growth will increase the risks associated with surgery, or in the presence of an enlarging cyst. Magnetic resonance imaging is usually sufficient for preoperative evaluation and presurgical embolization is unnecessary. The goal of surgery is complete resection of the lesion before the patient experiences a disabling neurological deficit.

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Russell R. Lonser, Robert J. Weil, John E. Wanebo, Hetty L. Devroom, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. Von Hippel—Lindau (VHL) disease is an autosomal-dominant disorder frequently associated with hemangioblastomas of the spinal cord. Because of the slow progression, protean nature, and high frequency of multiple spinal hemangioblastomas associated with VHL disease, the surgical management of these lesions is complex. Because prior reports have not identified the factors that predict which patients with spinal cord hemangioblastomas need surgery or what outcomes of this procedure should be expected, the authors have reviewed a series of patients with VHL disease who underwent resection of spinal hemangioblastomas at a single institution to identify features that might guide surgical management of these patients.

Methods. Forty-four consecutive patients with VHL disease (26 men and 18 women) who underwent 55 operations with resection of 86 spinal cord hemangioblastomas (mean age at surgery 34 years; range 20–58 years) at the National Institutes of Health were included in this study (mean clinical follow up 44 months). Patient examination, review of hospital charts, operative findings, and magnetic resonance imaging studies were used to analyze surgical management and its outcome. To evaluate the clinical course, clinical grades were assigned to patients before and after surgery. Preoperative neurological status, tumor size, and tumor location were predictive of postoperative outcome. Patients with no or minimal preoperative neurological dysfunction, with lesions smaller than 500 mm3, and with dorsal lesions were more likely to have no or minimal neurological impairment. Syrinx resolution was the result of tumor removal and was not influenced by whether the syrinx cavity was entered.

Conclusions. Spinal cord hemangioblastomas can be safely removed in the majority of patients with VHL disease. Generally in these patients, hemangioblastomas of the spinal cord should be removed when they produce symptoms or signs.

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Russell R. Lonser, Stuart Walbridge, Alexander O. Vortmeyer, Svetlana D. Pack, Tung T. Nguyen, Nitin Gogate, Jeffery J. Olson, Aytac Akbasak, R. Hunt Bobo, Thomas Goffman, Zhengping Zhuang, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. To determine the acute and long-term effects of a therapeutic dose of brain radiation in a primate model, the authors studied the clinical, laboratory, neuroimaging, molecular, and histological outcomes in rhesus monkeys that had received fractionated whole-brain radiation therapy (WBRT).

Methods. Twelve 3-year-old male primates (Macaca mulatta) underwent fractionated WBRT (350 cGy for 5 days/week for 2 weeks, total dose 3500 cGy). Animals were followed clinically and with laboratory studies and serial magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. They were killed when they developed medical problems or neurological symptoms, lesions appeared on MR imaging, or at study completion. Gross, histological, and molecular analyses were then performed.

Nine (82%) of 11 animals that underwent long-term follow up (> 2.5 years) developed neurological symptoms and/or enhancing lesions on MR imaging, which were defined as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), 2.9 to 8.3 years after radiation therapy. The GBMs were categorized as either unifocal (three) or multifocal (six), and were located in the supratentorial (six), infratentorial (two), or both (one) cranial regions. Histological examination revealed distant, noncontiguous tumor invasion within the white matter of all nine animals harboring GBMs. Novel interspecies comparative genomic hybridization (three animals) uniformly showed deletions in the GBMs that corresponded to chromosome 9 in humans.

Conclusions. The high rate of GBM formation (82%) following a therapeutic dose of WBRT in nonhuman primates indicates that radioinduction of these neoplasms as a late complication of this therapy may occur more frequently than is currently recognized in human patients. The development of these tumors while monitoring the monkeys' conditions with clinical and serial MR imaging studies, and access to the tumor and the entire brain for histological and molecular analyses offers an opportunity to gather unique insights into the nature and development of GBMs.

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Russell R. Lonser, Stuart Walbridge, Kayhan Garmestani, John A. Butman, Hugh A. Walters, Alexander O. Vortmeyer, Paul F. Morrison, Martin W. Brechbiel, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. Intrinsic disease processes of the brainstem (gliomas, neurodegenerative disease, and others) have remained difficult or impossible to treat effectively because of limited drug penetration across the blood—brainstem barrier with conventional delivery methods. The authors used convection-enhanced delivery (CED) of a macromolecular tracer visible on magnetic resonance (MR) imaging to examine the utility of CED for safe perfusion of the brainstem.

Methods. Three primates (Macaca mulatta) underwent CED of various volumes of infusion ([Vis]; 85, 110, and 120 µl) of Gd-bound albumin (72 kD) in the pontine region of the brainstem during serial MR imaging. Infusate volume of distribution (Vd), homogeneity, and anatomical distribution were visualized and quantified using MR imaging. Neurological function was observed and recorded up to 35 days postinfusion. Histological analysis was performed in all animals. Large regions of the pons and midbrain were successfully and safely perfused with the macromolecular protein. The Vd was linearly proportional to the Vi (R2 = 0.94), with a Vd/Vi ratio of 8.7 ± 1.2 (mean ± standard deviation). Furthermore, the concentration across the perfused region was homogeneous. The Vd increased slightly at 24 hours after completion of the infusion, and remained larger until the intensity of infusion faded (by Day 7). No animal exhibited a neurological deficit after infusion. Histological analysis revealed normal tissue architecture and minimal gliosis that was limited to the region immediately surrounding the cannula track.

Conclusions. First, CED can be used to perfuse the brainstem safely and effectively with macromolecules. Second, a large-molecular-weight imaging tracer can be used successfully to deliver, monitor in vivo, and control the distribution of small- and large-molecular-weight putative therapeutic agents for treatment of intrinsic brainstem processes.

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John R. Pace, Russell R. Lonser, R. Duncan Kirkby, Neal Jeffries, Michael A. Rogawski, and Edward H. Oldfield

Object. The long-term antiseizure effects of local convection-enhanced infusion of the excitotoxin ibotenate were examined in a rat model of temporal lobe epilepsy.

Methods. A single injection of kainate, an epileptogenic excitatory amino acid, into the left amygdala elicited chronic spontaneous recurrent seizure activity for at least 36 days after the injection. Two weeks after the injection, infusion of ibotenate, a nonepileptogenic excitatory amino acid that is an axon-sparing neuronal cell toxin, into the left amygdala and piriform lobe induced immediate and permanent extinction of electrical and behavioral seizure activity.

Conclusions. Lesioning of an epileptic focus by convective distribution of ibotenate can produce an enduring suppression of seizure activity, indicating a chemical neurosurgical approach for epilepsy therapy.

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Retroclival craniopharyngioma

Case illustration

Russell R. Lonser, Christine Glastonbury, and Ronald I. Apfelbaum

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Ronald I. Apfelbaum, Russell R. Lonser, Robert Veres, and Adrian Casey

Object. The management of odontoid fractures remains controversial. Only direct anterior screw fixation provides immediate stabilization of the spine and may preserve normal C1–2 motion. To determine the indications, optimum timing, and results for direct anterior screw fixation of odontoid fractures, the authors reviewed the surgery-related outcome of patients who underwent this procedure at two institutions.

Methods. One hundred forty-seven consecutive patients (98 males and 49 females) who underwent direct anterior screw fixation for recent (≤ 6 months postinjury [129 patients]) or remote (≥ 18 months postinjury [18 patients]) Type II (138 cases) or III (nine cases) odontoid fractures at the University of Utah (94 patients) and National Institute of Traumatology in Budapest, Hungary (53 patients) between 1986 and 1998 are included in this study (mean follow up 18.2 months). Data obtained from clinical examination, review of hospital charts, operative findings, and imaging studies were used to analyze the surgery-related results in these patients.

In patients with recent fractures there was an overall bone fusion rate of 88%. The rate of anatomical bone fusion of recent fractures was significantly (p ≤ 0.05) higher in fractures oriented in the horizontal and posterior oblique direction (compared with anterior oblique), but this finding was independent (p ≥ 0.05) of age, sex, number of screws placed (one or two), and the degree or the direction of odontoid displacement. In patients with remote fractures there was a significantly lower rate of bone fusion (25%). Overall, complications related to hardware failure occurred in 14 patients (10%) and those unrelated to hardware in three patients (2%). There was one death (1%) related to surgery.

Conclusions. Direct anterior screw fixation is an effective and safe method for treating recent odontoid fractures (< 6 months postinjury). It confers immediate stability, preserves C1–2 rotatory motion, and achieves a fusion rate that compares favorably with alternative treatment methods. In contradistinction, in patients with remote fractures (≥ 18 months postinjury) a significantly lower rate of fusion is found when using this technique, and these patients are believed to be poor candidates for this procedure.