Chiari malformation type I and basilar invagination originating from atlantoaxial instability

Acta Neurochirurgica (2020) 162:1553–1563

Recently, a novel hypothesis has been proposed concerning the origin of craniovertebral junction (CVJ) abnormalities. Commonly found in patients with these entities, atlantoaxial instability has been suspected to cause both Chiari malformation type I and basilar invagination, which renders the tried and tested surgical decompression strategy ineffective. In turn, C1-2 fusion is proposed as a single solution for all CVJ abnormalities, and a revised definition of atlantoaxial instability sees patients both with and without radiographic evidence of instability undergo fusion, instead relying on the intraoperative assessment of the atlantoaxial joints to confirm instability.

Methods The authors conducted a comprehensive narrative review of literature and evidence covering this recently emerged hypothesis. The proposed pathomechanisms are discussed and contextualized with published literature.

Conclusion The existing evidence is evaluated for supporting or opposing sole posterior C1-2 fusion in patients with CVJ abnormalities and compared with reported outcomes for conventional surgical strategies such as posterior fossa decompression, occipitocervical fusion, and anterior decompression. At present, there is insufficient evidence supporting the hypothesis of atlantoaxial instability being the common progenitor for CVJ abnormalities. Abolishing tried and tested surgical procedures in favor of a single universal approach would thus be unwarranted.