Understanding the Course of Vertebral Artery at Craniovertebral Junction in Occipital Assimilation of Atlas: Made Simplified Using Conventional Angiography

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Preoperative assessment of vertebral artery (VA) is important to avoid its injury during surgery at craniovertebral junction (CVJ). The main concern is the course of third segment of VA (V3) while performing instrumentation at CVJ, that is, segment of VA from its course through transverse foramen of C2 to its course along the posterior arch of C1. This segment of VA includes its passage through C1 transverse foramen as well. This observational study was done to analyze the course, curvature, and termination of VA in patients with occipital assimilation of atlas at CVJ, a complex congenital anomaly, and compared with the normal course for better understanding especially by young neurosurgeons and spine surgeons.

Materials and Method

This is an observational study that included patients with occipitalized C1 with or without associated anomalies. Out of 30 patients of CVJ anomalies, 16 patients had occipitalized atlas. Digital subtraction angiography was done in all cases. It was done by selectively catheterizing the VA using standard Seldinger's technique and both anteroposterior and lateral projections were taken.


The course of VA was not identical on either side in any individual. It was lengthened and tortuous in all patients. Different types of anomalous course were encountered like bypassing transverse foramen of C1, close relation with C1-2 facet joints, variable course along the posterior arch of C1, abnormal termination and fenestration of VA.


Craniovertebral junction anomalies are not only bony or neural, but are vascular too. Complex CVJ anomalies are associated with higher incidence of anomalous course of the VA, an important surgical consideration.

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