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Tethering of the vertebral artery in the congenital arcuate foramen of the atlas vertebra: a possible cause of vertebral artery dissection in children

  • K E Cushing (a1), V Ramesh (a1), D Gardner-Medwin (a1), N V Todd (a2), A Gholkar (a3), P Baxter (a4) and PD Griffiths (a5)...

Twelve children with vertebrobasilar artery stroke are reported (seven males, five females; aged 6 months to 15 years). Patient 1 showed an arcuate foramen in the posterior arch of the atlas, an anatomical variant occurring in 3 to 15% of the population. It was hypothesized that the presence of the arcuate foramen might cause tethering of the vertebral artery and lead to its dissection by repetitive trauma. Lateral plain films of the cervical spine in cases of posterior circulation stroke were taken. Eight of 11 patients showed aberrant arcuate foramina. Of the remaining three patients, one had normal cervical spine X-rays, one had an absent right posterior arch of the atlas following previous surgery for a cervical meningocele, and one patient had incomplete ossification of the vertebrae. Seven of the nine patients with arcuate foramina had vertebral angiograms. In all cases this showed the vertebral artery passing through the arcuate foramen before entering the brain and an appearance consistent with arterial dissection and occlusion at the same site below the foramen. Most documented cases of posterior circulation stroke in children follow trauma, which may be minimal or repetitive, with thrombotic occlusion of the artery at C1–C2 level. The association with an arcuate foramen and its possible causative role in the genesis of posterior circulation stroke in children has not been previously recognized. There may be a causal association between the presence of an arcuate foramen, tethering of the vertebral artery in the foramen, and dissection from repetitive trauma with movement of the neck.

Corresponding author
Newcastle General Hospital, 14 Church Avenue, Gosforth, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne NE3 1AN, UK. E-mail:
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Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology
  • ISSN: 0012-1622
  • EISSN: 1469-8749
  • URL: /core/journals/developmental-medicine-and-child-neurology
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