Pathogenesis of syringomyelia associated with Chiari type 1 malformation: review of evidences and proposal of a new hypothesis

Neurosurg Rev (2010) 33:271–285. DOI 10.1007/s10143-010-0266-5

The exact pathogenesis of syringomyelia associated with Chiari type 1 malformation is unknown, although a number of authors have reported their theories of syrinx formation. The purpose of this review is to understand evidences based on the known theories and to create a new hypothesis of the pathogenesis. We critically review the literatures on clinicopathological, radiological, and clinical features of this disorder.

The previously proposed theories mainly focused on the driven mechanisms of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) into the spinal cord. They did not fully explain radiological features or effects of surgical treatment such as shunting procedures.

Common findings of the syrinx in clinicopathological studies were the communication with the central canal and extracanalicular extension to the posterior gray matter. Most of the magnetic resonance imaging studies demonstrated blockade and alternated CSF dynamics at the foramen magnum, but failed to show direct communication of the syrinx with the CSF spaces.

Pressure studies revealed almost identical intrasyrinx pressure to the subarachnoid space and decreased compliance of the spinal CSF space.

Recent imaging studies suggest that the extracellular fluid accumulation may play an important role. The review of evidences promotes a new hypothesis of syrinx formation. Decreased absorption mechanisms of the extracellular fluid may underlie the pathogenesis of syringomyelia. Reduced compliance of the posterior spinal veins associated with the decreased compliance of the spinal subarachnoid space will result in disturbed absorption of the extracellular fluid through the intramedullary venous channels and formation of syringomyelia.