Osseous anomalies of the craniocervical junction are hypothesized to precipitate the hindbrain herniation observed in Chiari I malformation (CM-I). Previous work by Tubbs et al. showed that posterior angulation of the odontoid process is more prevalent in children with CM-I than in healthy controls. The present study is an external validation of that report. The goals of our study were 3-fold: 1) to externally validate the results of Tubbs et al. in a different patient population; 2) to compare how morphometric parameters vary with age, sex, and symptomatology; and 3) to develop a correlative model for tonsillar ectopia in CM-I based on these measurements.
The authors performed a retrospective review of 119 patients who underwent posterior fossa decompression with duraplasty at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University; 78 of these patients had imaging available for review. Demographic and clinical variables were collected. A neuroradiologist retrospectively evaluated preoperative MRI examinations in these 78 patients and recorded the following measurements: McRae line length; obex displacement length; odontoid process parameters (height, angle of retroflexion, and angle of retroversion); perpendicular distance to the basion-C2 line (pB–C2 line); length of cerebellar tonsillar ectopia; caudal extent of the cerebellar tonsils; and presence, location, and size of syringomyelia. Odontoid retroflexion grade was classified as Grade 0, > 90°; Grade I,85°–89°; Grade II, 80°–84°; and Grade III, < 80°. Age groups were defined as 0–6 years, 7–12 years, and 13–17 years at the time of surgery. Univariate and multivariate linear regression analyses, Kruskal-Wallis 1-way ANOVA, and Fisher’s exact test were performed to assess the relationship between age, sex, and symptomatology with these craniometric variables.
The prevalence of posterior odontoid angulation was 81%, which is almost identical to that in the previous report (84%). With increasing age, the odontoid height (p < 0.001) and pB–C2 length (p < 0.001) increased, while the odontoid process became more posteriorly inclined (p = 0.010). The pB–C2 line was significantly longer in girls (p = 0.006). These measurements did not significantly correlate with symptomatology. Length of tonsillar ectopia in pediatric CM-I correlated with an enlarged foramen magnum (p = 0.023), increasing obex displacement (p = 0.020), and increasing odontoid retroflexion (p < 0.001).
Anomalous bony development of the craniocervical junction is a consistent feature of CM-I in children. The authors found that the population at their center was characterized by posterior angulation of the odontoid process in 81% of cases, similar to findings by Tubbs et al. (84%). The odontoid process appeared to lengthen and become more posteriorly inclined with age. Increased tonsillar ectopia was associated with more posterior odontoid angulation, a widened foramen magnum, and an inferiorly displaced obex.