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A child with unilateral abducens nerve palsy and neurovascular compression in Chiari malformation type 1 resolved with posterior fossa decompression: illustrative case

Olivia A Kozel, Belinda Shao, Cody A Doberstein, Natalie Amaral-Nieves, Matthew N Anderson, Gita V Harappanahally, Michael A Langue, and Konstantina A Svokos


Unilateral cranial nerve (CN) VI, or abducens nerve, palsy is rare in children and has not been reported in association with Chiari malformation type 1 (CM1) in the absence of other classic CM1 symptoms.


A 3-year-old male presented with acute incomitant esotropia consistent with a unilateral, left CN VI palsy and no additional neurological symptoms. Imaging demonstrated CM1 without hydrocephalus or papilledema, as well as an anterior inferior cerebellar artery (AICA) vessel loop in the immediate vicinity of the left abducens nerve. Given the high risk of a skull base approach for direct microvascular decompression of the abducens nerve and the absence of other classic Chiari symptoms, the patient was initially observed. However, as his palsy progressed, he underwent posterior fossa decompression with duraplasty (PFDD), with the aim of restoring global cerebrospinal fluid dynamics and decreasing possible AICA compression of the left abducens nerve. Postoperatively, his symptoms completely resolved.


In this first reported case of CM1 presenting as a unilateral abducens palsy in a young child, possibly caused by neurovascular compression, the patient’s symptoms resolved after indirect surgical decompression via PFDD.