The goal in this study was to describe the overall organization of the spinal arachnoid mater and spinal subarachnoid space (SSAS) as well as its relationship with surrounding structures, in order to highlight spinal cord arachnoid cisterns.
Fifteen spinal cords were extracted from embalmed adult cadavers. The organization of the spinal cord arachnoid and SSAS was described via macroscopic observations, optical microscopic views, and scanning electron microscope (SEM) studies. Gelatin injections were also performed to study separated dorsal subarachnoid compartments.
Compartmentalization of SSAS was studied on 3 levels of axial sections. On an axial section passing through the tips of the denticulate ligament anchored to the dura, 3 subarachnoid cisterns were observed: 2 dorsolateral and 1 ventral. On an axial section passing through dural exit/entrance of rootlets, 5 subarachnoid cisterns were observed: 2 dorsolateral, 2 lateral formed by dorsal and ventral rootlets, and 1 ventral. On an axial section passing between the two previous ones, only 1 subarachnoid cistern was observed around the spinal cord. This compartmentalization resulted in the anatomical description of 3 elements: the median dorsal septum, the arachnoid anchorage to the tip of the denticulate ligament, and the arachnoid anchorage to the dural exit/entrance of rootlets. The median dorsal septum already separated dorsal left and right subarachnoid spaces and was described from C1 level to 3 cm above the conus medullaris. This septum was anchored to the dorsal septal vein. No discontinuation was observed in the median dorsal arachnoid septum. At the entrance point of dorsal rootlets in the spinal cord, arachnoid trabeculations were described. Using the SEM, numerous arachnoid adhesions between the ventral surface of the dorsal rootlets and the pia mater over the spinal cord were observed. At the ventral part of the SSAS, no septum was found, but some arachnoid trabeculations between the arachnoid and the pia mater were present and more frequent than in the dorsal part. Laterally, arachnoid was firmly anchored to the denticulate ligaments’ fixation at dural points, and dural exit/entrance of rootlets made a fibrous ring of arachnoidodural adhesions. At the level of the cauda equina, the arachnoid mater surrounded all rootlets together—as a sac and not individually.
Arachnoid cisterns are organized on each side of a median dorsal septum and compartmentalized in relation with the attachments of denticulate ligament and exit/entrance of rootlets.