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James P. McAllister II and Janet M. Miller

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James P. McAllister II, Todd A. Maugans, Mitseh V. Shah and Raymond C. Truex Jr.

✓ To determine the effects of increased cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure on neuronal morphology, obstructive hydrocephalus was induced by injecting kaolin into the fourth ventricle and cisterna magna of 1-day-old rats. The animals were sacrificed 10 to 12 days later, at which time severe ventriculomegaly and cortical thinning were apparent in the parieto-occipital region. Tissue from this area was processed by rapid Golgi methods. Well impregnated pyramidal neurons were examined by light microscopy, and their somatic and dendritic features compared to those of age-matched littermate controls. The somata of medium pyramidal neurons were unaffected, but their basilar dendrites had fewer branches and those that remained were shorter. A variable reduction in dendritic spines occurred, such that some branches were totally denuded while others exhibited spine densities similar to those seen in control animals. The most striking alteration was the occurrence of frequent dendritic varicosities. These enlargements of the dendritic shaft separated by extremely thin constrictions gave the affected segment a beaded appearance. Both dendritic spine loss and varicosity formation were most notable on distal portions of individual branches and within regions of the dendritic tree closest to the ventricular and meningeal surfaces. These alterations are consistent with other reports of dendritic changes associated with aging, mental retardation, and alcohol exposure. These observations suggest that hydrocephalus causes dendritic deterioration or retardation of dendritic maturation. The fact that neuronal morphology was not more severely affected may indicate that these effects are reversible.

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James P. McAllister II

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Ramin Eskandari, James P. McAllister II, Janet M. Miller, Yuchuan Ding, Steven D. Ham, David M. Shearer and John S. Way

Object. The authors of previous studies have suggested that connectivity within the cerebral cortex may be irreversibly altered by hydrocephalus. To examine connectivity-related changes directly, the authors conducted a study in which they used an axonal tracer in an animal model of infantile hydrocephalus.

Methods. In five hydrocephalic kittens low-pressure ventriculoperitoneal (VP) shunts were placed 10 to 14 days after induction of hydrocephalus by intracisternal kaolin injections. Wheat germ agglutinin-conjugated horseradish peroxidase was injected laterally into the motor cortex in hydrocephalic animals 9 to 15 days after kaolin injection, and 1, 2, and 4 weeks after VP shunt insertion in shunt-treated animals, and in age-matched controls.

Reduction of antero- and retrograde labeling was most profound within the contralateral cortex and portions of the midbrain. Thalamic nuclei exhibited reductions in anterograde and retrograde labeling. Labeling within cell bodies of the ventral tegmental area decreased greatly in animals with untreated hydrocephalus, in which retrograde labeling was reduced in the locus coeruleus but did not affect the raphe nucleus. Shunt treatment increased both antero- and retrograde labeling of contralateral motor cortex to near-normal levels. Thalamic relay nuclei recovered antero- and retrograde labeling, although not to levels exhibited in controls. Shunt therapy restored cellular labeling within the ventral tegmental area and locus coeruleus. Recovery of labeling occurred as early as 7 days after shunt insertion.

Conclusions. Collectively, analysis of these data indicates the following. 1) Cortical connectivity involving both afferent and efferent pathways was impaired in untreated hydrocephalic animals. 2) Shunt therapy improved both cortical afferent and efferent connectivity. 3) Complete reestablishment of the cortical efferent pathways, however, did not occur. Cortical pathway dysfunction, if permanent, could cause many of the motor and cognitive deficits seen clinically in children with hydrocephalus.

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James P. McAllister II, Ramin M. Abdolvahabi, Marion L. Walker, Jerald A. Mitchell and Hazel C. Jones


Despite the investigations that have linked hydrocephalus to reproductive system abnormalities, no researchers have attempted to identify the pathophysiological mechanism of this relationship. Because the role of the hypothalamic gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) system in the regulation of reproductive functions is well established, the authors used immunohistochemical and radioimmunoassay (RIA) techniques to determine the morphological and biochemical effects of hydrocephalus on the hypothalamic GnRH system.


Hypothalamic GnRH levels, fiber density, and cell types were studied in 21- and 50-day-old control and congenitally hydrocephalic Texas rats. Results of RIA indicated a significant (8.4%) increase in GnRH in 21-day-old hydrocephalic rats (9.17 ± 0.64 pg/ng total protein) compared with that in controls (0.97 ± 0.74 pg/ng total protein). In addition, the 50-day-old hydrocephalic animals had a significantly higher level of GnRH compared with age-matched controls (20.4 pg/ng compared with 1.88 ± 2.1 pg/ng total protein). This increase was accompanied by changes in the fiber appearance and a shift from low GnRH producing cells to high GnRH producing cells in the hydrocephalic animals; however, there was no significant difference in the fiber density between the control and hydrocephalic animals at 21 days. In addition, poor neurological scores correlated with the severity of hydrocephalus.


These results demonstrated that hypothalamic GnRH levels are significantly affected by fetal-onset hydrocephalus and that the mechanisms responsible for these effects may take place at the cellular rather than the gross structural level. Furthermore, they suggest that impairments in the GnRH system may be protracted in neonates and infants with hydrocephalus, and thus may be overcome by relatively early treatment with ventricular diversion. However, the clinical implications of GnRH perturbations in shunt-dependent patients must await a forthcoming study in shunted animals.

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Marvin Bergsneider, Michael R. Egnor, Miles Johnston, Dory Kranz, Joseph R. Madsen, James P. Mcallister II, Curt Stewart, Marion L. Walker and Michael A. Williams

✓In an effort to identify critical gaps in the prevailing knowledge of hydrocephalus, the authors formulated 10 key questions. 1) How do we define hydrocephalus? 2) How is cerebrosinal fluid (CSF) absorbed normally and what are the causes of CSF malabsorption in hydrocephalus? 3) Why do the ventricles dilate in communicating hydrocephalus? 4) What happens to the structure and function of the brain when it is compressed and stretched by the expanding ventricles? 5) What is the role of cerebrovenous pressure in hydrocephalus? 6) What causes normal-pressure hydrocephalus? 7) What causes low-pressure hydrocephalus? 8) What is the pathophysiology of slit ventricle syndrome? 9) What is the pathophysiological basis for neurological impairment in hydrocephalus, and to what extent is it reversible? 10) How is the brain of a child with hydrocephalus different from that of a young or elderly adult? Rigorous answers to these questions should lead to more effective and reliable treatments for this disorder.

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James P. McAllister II, Michael A. Williams, Marion L. Walker, John R. W. Kestle, Norman R. Relkin, Amy M. Anderson, Paul H. Gross and Samuel R. Browd

Building on previous National Institutes of Health-sponsored symposia on hydrocephalus research, “Opportunities for Hydrocephalus Research: Pathways to Better Outcomes” was held in Seattle, Washington, July 9–11, 2012. Plenary sessions were organized into four major themes, each with two subtopics: Causes of Hydrocephalus (Genetics and Pathophysiological Modifications); Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus (Biomarkers and Neuroimaging); Treatment of Hydrocephalus (Bioengineering Advances and Surgical Treatments); and Outcome in Hydrocephalus (Neuropsychological and Neurological). International experts gave plenary talks, and extensive group discussions were held for each of the major themes.

The conference emphasized patient-centered care and translational research, with the main objective to arrive at a consensus on priorities in hydrocephalus that have the potential to impact patient care in the next 5 years. The current state of hydrocephalus research and treatment was presented, and the following priorities for research were recommended for each theme. 1) Causes of Hydrocephalus—CSF absorption, production, and related drug therapies; pathogenesis of human hydrocephalus; improved animal and in vitro models of hydrocephalus; developmental and macromolecular transport mechanisms; biomechanical changes in hydrocephalus; and age-dependent mechanisms in the development of hydrocephalus. 2) Diagnosis of Hydrocephalus—implementation of a standardized set of protocols and a shared repository of technical information; prospective studies of multimodal techniques including MRI and CSF biomarkers to test potential pharmacological treatments; and quantitative and cost-effective CSF assessment techniques. 3) Treatment of Hydrocephalus—improved bioengineering efforts to reduce proximal catheter and overall shunt failure; external or implantable diagnostics and support for the biological infrastructure research that informs these efforts; and evidence-based surgical standardization with longitudinal metrics to validate or refute implemented practices, procedures, or tests. 4) Outcome in Hydrocephalus—development of specific, reliable batteries with metrics focused on the hydrocephalic patient; measurements of neurocognitive outcome and quality-of-life measures that are adaptable, trackable across the growth spectrum, and applicable cross-culturally; development of comparison metrics against normal aging and sensitive screening tools to diagnose idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus against appropriate normative age-based data; better understanding of the incidence and prevalence of hydrocephalus within both pediatric and adult populations; and comparisons of aging patterns in adults with hydrocephalus against normal aging patterns.

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James P. McAllister II, Arcangela S. Wood, Martha J. Johnson, Robert W. Connelly, David J. Skarupa, Michelle Secic, Mark G. Luciano, Neil G. Harris and Hazel C. Jones

Although neonatal hydrocephalus often results in residual neurological impairments, little is known about the cellular mechanisms responsible for these deficits. The immediate early gene, fos (c-fos), functions as a “third messenger” to regulate protein synthesis and is a good marker for neuronal activation. To identify functional changes in neurons at the cellular level, the authors quantified fos RNA expression and localized fos protein in the H-Tx rat model of congenital hydrocephalus. Tissue samples from sensorimotor and auditory regions were obtained from hydrocephalic rats and age-matched, normal litter mates at 1, 6, 12, and 21 days of age (four-six animals in each group) and processed for immunohistochemical analysis of fos and Northern blot analysis of RNA. At 12 days of age, hydrocephalic animals exhibited significant decreases in the ratio of fos immunoreactive cells to Nissl-stained neurons from both cortical regions, but no statistical differences were noted in fos expression. At 21 days of age, both the ratio of fos immunoreactive cells to Nissl-stained neurons and fos expression decreased significantly. The number of fos-positive neurons decreased in all cortical layers but was most prominent in layers V through VI. This decrease did not appear to be caused by neuronal death because examination of Nissl-stained sections revealed many viable neurons within the areas where fos immunoreactivity was absent. These results suggest that progressive neonatal hydrocephalus reduces the capacity for neuronal activation in the cerebral cortex, primarily in those neurons that provide corticofugal projections, and that this impairment may begin during relatively early stages of ventriculomegaly.

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Albert M. Isaacs, Joshua S. Shimony, Diego M. Morales, Leandro Castaneyra-Ruiz, Alexis Hartman, Madison Cook, Christopher D. Smyser, Jennifer Strahle, Matthew D. Smyth, Yan Yan, James P. McAllister II, Robert C. McKinstry and David D. Limbrick Jr.


Traditionally, diffusion MRI (dMRI) has been performed in parallel with high-resolution conventional MRI, which requires long scan times and may require sedation or general anesthesia in infants and young children. Conversely, fast brain MRI permits image acquisition without the need for sedation, although its short pulse sequences, susceptibility to motion artifact, and contrast resolution have limited its use to assessing ventricular size or major structural variations. Here, the authors demonstrate the feasibility of leveraging a 3-direction fast brain MRI protocol to obtain reliable dMRI measures.


Fast brain MRI with 3-direction dMRI was performed in infants and children before and after hydrocephalus treatment. Regions of interest in the posterior limbs of the internal capsules (PLICs) and the genu of the corpus callosum (gCC) were drawn on diffusion-weighted images, and mean diffusivity (MD) data were extracted. Ventricular size was determined by the frontal occipital horn ratio (FOHR). Differences between and within groups pre- and posttreatment, and FOHR-MD correlations were assessed.


Of 40 patients who met inclusion criteria (median age 27.5 months), 15 (37.5%), 17 (42.5%), and 8 (20.0%) had posthemorrhagic hydrocephalus (PHH), congenital hydrocephalus (CH), or no intracranial abnormality (controls), respectively. A hydrocephalus group included both PHH and CH patients. Prior to treatment, the FOHR (p < 0.001) and PLIC MD (p = 0.027) were greater in the hydrocephalus group than in the controls. While the mean gCC MD in the hydrocephalus group (1.10 × 10−3 mm2/sec) was higher than that of the control group (0.98), the difference was not significant (p = 0.135). Following a median follow-up duration of 14 months, decreases in FOHR, PLIC MD, and gCC MD were observed in the hydrocephalus group and were similar to those in the control group (p = 0.107, p = 0.702, and p = 0.169, respectively). There were no correlations identified between FOHR and MDs at either time point.


The utility of fast brain MRI can be extended beyond anatomical assessments to obtain dMRI measures. A reduction in PLIC and gCC MD to levels similar to those of controls was observed within 14 months following shunt surgery for hydrocephalus in PHH and CH infants. Further studies are required to assess the role of fast brain dMRI for assessing clinical outcomes in pediatric hydrocephalus patients.