Vertebral artery variations in thoracic aortic patients†

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Arterial variation is common in the vertebral artery, and simple occlusion of the left subclavian artery may result in brain infarction, especially when it terminates in the posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA). We report the results of preoperative vertebral artery evaluation by magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) and its impact upon operative strategy.


Among the 214 patients who underwent thoracic aortic surgery from 2009 through 2012, 159 patients with preoperative MRA were retrospectively analysed. Patients' age ranged from 35 to 88 (median 72), 122 were male and 115 had degenerative aneurysms. Prevalence rates of vertebral artery variations and occlusive lesions were reported, together with operative strategies and outcomes.


There were 19 hypoplasia (12%), 10 PICA termination (6%) and 12 occlusive lesion (8%) on the right vertebral artery and 10 hypoplasia (6%), 5 PICA termination (3%), 7 direct arch origin (4%) and 3 occlusive lesion (2%) on the left. Two of the seven arch-originated arteries terminated in the PICA. In aortic arch replacement, these were reconstructed together with the left subclavian artery while hypothermia was maintained. During thoracic endovascular aortic repair with Zone-2 proximal landing, debranching bypass was employed to preserve left subclavian perfusion when there was PICA termination, hypoplasia or occlusive lesion. In 1 patient with hypoplasia between the basilar artery and the left PICA, bypass was added immediately after deployment because radial pressure dropped critically. No brain infarction occurred with this strategy.


PICA termination and right side hypoplasia/occlusive lesion, where left subclavian perfusion is important for brain protection, is present in ˜30%. Left vertebral artery that originated from the arch should be managed with care, because PICA termination is highly prevalent.

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