-Acta Iqurochirurgica

Acta Neurochir (Wien) (1992): 116:119 - 127

9 Springer-Verlag 1992 Printed in Austria

Arteriovenous Malformations of the Posterior Fossa* B. George, M. Celis-Lopez, T. Kato, and G. Lot Department of Neurosurgery, H6pital Lariboisi~re, Paris, France

Summary AVMs of the posterior fossa are reviewed on the basis of personal experience of 47 cases including 2 venous angiomas, 7 cavernous angiomas, 5 arteriovenous fistulas and 33 true arteriovenous malformations and of the few series reported in the literature. MRI is now an indispensable tool to define the exact localization of any malformation. Combined with angiography, it permits one to choose the most adequate therapeutic strategy and the best surgical approach. Radical cure is to be contemplated in most cases considering the often dramatic consequences of bleeding at the infratentorial level. Deep AVMs and moreover cavernous angiomas, even those located in highly functional structures such as the brain stem, can now be discussed for treatment. Encouraging results have already been obtained using, alone or in association, the recently advanced modalities of treatment: interventional neuroradiology, radiosurgery, and microsurgery. Keywords: Arteriovenous malformation; cavernous angioma; MRI; surgery.

T h o u g h all types o f A V M c a n be o b s e r v e d at the i n f r a t e n t o r i a l level, r e p o r t s o n a r t e r i o v e n o u s m a l f o r m a t i o n s ( A V M ) o f the p o s t e r i o r fossa are n o t n u m e r o u s 1, 7, 8, 19, 26, 31, 41. This is m a i n l y because they are u n c o m m o n lesions a n d thus surgical experience is generally limited.

Frequency A V M o f the p o s t e r i o r fossa includes true A V M , a r t e r i o v e n o u s fistula, c a v e r n o u s a n g i o m a , telengiectasis a n d the so-called venous a n g i o m a . Tables 1 a n d 2 indicate their respective frequencies at the s u p r a a n d i n f r a t e n t o r i a l level in o u r d e p a r t m e n t over the last 5 years a n d f r o m the w o r k o f M c C o r m i c k 2~ on a u t o p s y studies. Telengiectasis is the o n l y t y p e t h a t p r e d o m i -

* Invited Lecture, presented at the European Congress of Neurosurgery, Moscow, June 23-29, 1991

Table 1. Distribution of A VMs (Lariboisi~re series)




171 7 5 2

33 36 53 13

Table2. Distribution ofAVMs (Mc Cormiek' series 1968)




217 22 59 46

70 38 21 31

63% 7% 17% 13%

43% 24% 13% 19%

nates in the p o s t e r i o r fossa; for the others, d i s t r i b u t i o n at the infra a n d s u p r a t e n t o r i a l level is very similar.

Venous Angioma (VA) V A is the m o s t frequent v a s c u l a r m a l f o r m a t i o n f o u n d at a u t o p s y (2.6%) as it is less c o m m o n l y associated with bleeding. I n the p o s t e r i o r fossa, it is m a i n l y l o c a t e d in the d e p t h o f the cerebellum. C e r e b e l l a r localization a c c o u n t s for 2 5 % o f all V A s b u t represents 50% o f all V A s a s s o c i a t e d with h a e m a t o m a 22' 29, 32 Therefore, it m i g h t be c o n c l u d e d t h a t p o s t e r i o r fossa V A s s h o u l d be r e m o v e d in m o s t cases. H o w e v e r , a new c o n c e p t is t h a t this m a l f o r m a t i o n is in fact a n a b n o r m a l v e n o u s n e t w o r k which d e v e l o p e d to c o m p e n s a t e for the lack o f i m p o r t a n t n o r m a l d r a i n i n g veins 32' 35; SO its s u p p r e s s i o n can lead to severe consequences related to v e n o u s h y p e r t e n s i o n a n d infarction. M o r e o v e r , it has been s h o w n t h a t in some cases, the bleeding is in fact


B. George et at.: Arteriovenous Malformations of the Posterior Fossa

due to another associated malformation, especially a cavernous angioma 35' 47

Telangieetasis (T) T are small true capillary malformations. They generally cannot be identified by any current imaging tool. They can be the cause of some unexplained haematomas and particularly in the pons which is its c o m m o n site. However, from autopsy studies, T are mostly incidental: only one out of 38 cases had bled in Mc Cormick's report 2~ Table 3. Distribution

of CAs

Supratentorial Infratentorial


Mc Cormick et al. Simard et al. Robinson et al. Voigt and Ya~argil Lariboisi+re

58 109 58 126 43

21 18 13 38 7

26 14 18 23 14





Table 4. Localization

o f C A in the Posterior Fossa


Brain stem


Mc Corrnick et al. 2~ Simard et al. 34 Robinson et al. 28 Lariboisi6re

11 5 5

9 13 8

7 9








Cavernous Angioma (CA) CAs of the posterior fossa account for about 25% of all cavernomas. Sex and mean age of discovery are similar at both supra and infratentorial levels. Localization in the posterior fossa is mainly in the brain stem and especially the pons 28' 34, 42, 44 (Tables 3 and 4). CAs are generally discovered after one or more bleeds which produce more or less dramatic neurological symptoms and signs. Since it is quite common that CA is associated with repeated minor bleeds, the clinical presentation may be a progressive worsening suggesting a tumour or a fluctuating deficit suggesting a demyelinating disease (multiple sclerosis). However, the density of highly functional structures in the brain stem explains that even minor leaks may lead to very significant and incapacitating deficits or even to death. So though the natural history of CA is not known 24, radical removal of posterior fossa lesions must be contemplated in each case. Since arterial feeders of cavernoma are very small, there is no possibility for endovascular treatment, The slow flow inside a CA led one to think that radiosurgery could be effective by inducing thrombosis. In fact, recently reported experience 43 of this treatment in 6 brain stem CAs has proven to be useless in all cases and even noxious in 3 cases due to radiation induced injury; in comparison, the same team treated surgically 7 similar cases with 6 good results and one with disability. Surgery is therefore the only adequate modality of treatment. M R I now provides not only the diagnosis with much certainty but also a precise anatomical locali-

Fig. 1. Pre (left) and post-operative (right) MRI of a brain stem cavernoma discovered after Needing

B. George etal.: Arteriovenous Malformations of the Posterior Fossa

zation. This permits one to choose the most direct and the least harmful route to reach the lesion. CA in the cerebellum, whatever the depth, can be reached and removed with almost no morbidity. Many cases of successful removal in the brain stem 16' 46, 47 have been reported. The main point is to define which part of the cavernoma is the closest to the floor of the fourth ventricle or to the lateral aspect of the brain stem. Each time, a CA reaches the surface or is covered by a thin lamina of brain stem tissue, resection can reasonably be attempted (Fig. 1). Dissection into the brain stem is generally facilitated by the surrounding gliotic and haemorrhagic tissue; however, in some places, the CA is directly in contact and even sometimes adherent to the normal parenchyma because of old haemorrhagic scars. These adhesions can make the dissection very difficult and hazardous.

Arteriovenous Fistula (AVF) Dural AVFs of the posterior fossa are very uncommon. AVFs of the lateral sinus almost always drain into the veins of the cerebral hemisphere. However, a pouch on the cerebellar veins may be the cause of bleeding in some cases as we observed in 5 patients including 2 at the foramen magnum, 2 on the transverse sinus and one on the tentorium close to the straight sinus (Fig. 2). Treatment is first endovascular but may be surgical in case of failure of intravascular occlusion.


AVF of the brain tissue is another but still more exceptional possibility. It may be either alone as in the case reported by Mount 21 and fed by the anterior inferior cerebellar artery or associated with a true nidus of an AVM as we observed in 1 of our cases of posterior fossa AVMs. Endovascular techniques are also the treatment of choice in those fistulas.

Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) Posterior fossa AVMs account for about 15% of all cerebral AVMs. The brain stem is involved in 25%, the cerebello-pontine angle in 5%; the most frequent localization is in the cerebellum (70% of the cases) where AVMs are mainly found in the vermis, the AVM being developed either partly or totally in it 1' 7, 8, 19, 20, 31, 41. The two third of our 24 cases had this vermian localization (Tables 5 and 6). Bleeding is the almost exclusive circumstance of discovery (Table 7) and in more than half of the cases, Table 5. Distribution of A VMs Supratentoriai Infratentorial % Autopsy series2~ 217 Clinical series3' 6, 8, 10, 11, 19. 26, 31 1807 Lariboisitre series Total

70 206

24 10







Fig. 2. Dural AVF of the tentorium draining into the straight sinus, fed by the occipital artery and the tentorial branch of the internal carotid artery and responsible for a cerebellar haematoma


B. George et al.: ArteriovenousMalformationsof the Posterior Fossa

Table6. Localization of A VMs

Autopsy series~~ Clinical series8,19,z6,~1,41 Lariboisibre series

Cerebellum Brainstem


52 111 25

12 3

15 34 5

CPA: Cerebello-pontineangle Table 7. Occurrence of Haemorrhage in A V M

Autopsy series2~ Clinical series8' 19.26.31,41 Lariboisi~re series




42 128 27

67 149 33

63 86 82

with several previous occurrences of haemorrhage. Other modes of discovery are much less frequent: progressive neurological deficit, intracranial hypertension or hydrocephalus. Bleeding from posterior fossa AVMs may have severe consequences; so even if from studies on the natural history 3' 6, H, 12, 13, 37, 40, the rate of rebleeding is likely similar to those located at the supratentorial level, the prevention of new haemorrhages is much more important. For instance, Kondliolka ~3 reported on a 16% overall mortality in their population of AVMs but it was 57% for cases of cerebellar location; Fults and Kelly observed five deaths and one vegetative state due to haemorrhage in a series of 12 cases followed over the course of 7-8 years on averagd ~ Decisions about treatment are based on clinical data, age, general condition, and neurological state and on parameters of the AVM including localization, size, feeders, and drainage. These parameters are best appreciated using a combined analysis of MRI and angiography. M R I is now mandatory for investigating any AVM~5, 17. It gives a nice definition of the anatomical relationship of the AVM with the functional areas including the brain stem, nucleus dentatus, and brachium pontis. In many cases, specially those located in the antero-superior part of the vermis, angiography is not able to differentiate those really involving the brain stem from those extending close to it or even compressing it, but remaining in an extrapial plane. On the contrary, MRI can generally demonstrate the integrity or the involvement of the brain stem (Figs. 3 and 4). This very important point has already been underlined

by Drake 7 at a time where MRI was not available and where the true extent of the AVM was discovered at surgery. MRI helps also determine the size of the nidus and often demonstrates very nicely the feeders and the draining veins. Therefore, with the great advantage of having views in the three spatial planes, MRI is an invaluable tool for defining the best surgical approach and the best therapeutic strategy. However, identification of feeders and draining veins still requires angiography. It gives their number and respective importance and can also reveal an associated aneurysm which is found in about 10% of cases on the arterial feeders 2' 4, 7, 20, 39. Questions concerning feeders and drainage are therefore well answered by these two examinations: which cerebellar artery is giving the main supply? Does any perforating branch participate in the AVM supply? What is the main venous drainage? Are the main arterial supply and the main drainage superimposed? What is the distance between the nidus and the functional structures? What is the number of feeders which is in fact closely related to the size of the nidus? Some of the above mentioned questions correspond to the items of the currently proposed classifications33' 36. However, these classifications do not fit very well with the AVMs of the posterior fossa. In fact, especially regarding the surgical problems, feeders and drainage particularities which are not included in these classifications are of great importance in the posterior fossa. Consequently, besides the size and localization, it seems useful to add a classification based on the vascular presentation (Fig. 5). According to this last point, posterior fossa AVMs can be separated into: i) medial AVMs with their main supply from either the posteroinferior cerebellar artery (PICA) or the superior cerebellar artery (SCA) according to the more or less superior extension, and draining medially into the vein of Galen, the straight sinus and the transverse sinus; ii) lateral AVMs fed mainly by the anterior-inferior cerebellar artery (AICA) and draining laterally towards the petrosal vein and the sigmoid sinus; iii) deep AVMs supplied by perforating branches and draining into ependymal and periaxial veins; iv) extensive AVMs combining several of the above types. This classification is obviously related to the AVM localization but gives less importance to the size. Conversely, it stresses the difficulty of how to reach the main feeder. For instance, the control of the SCA in a supero-medial AVM by a posterior approach supposes the surgeon to be able to pass above the nidus

B. George etal.: Arteriovenous Malformations of the Posterior Fossa





Fig. 3. MRI definition of AVMs. A) AVM of the eulmen extending up to the quadrigeminal plate but remaining in the extrapial plane of the brain stem. B) AVM of the quadrigeminal plate with intraparenchymal extension (same case as Fig. 5 C). C) Superomedial AVM of the cerebellum. Notice the venous drainage towards the vein of Galen and the straight sinus

and to isolate the S C A f r o m the draining veins. The same c o m m e n t can be m a d e for a cerebello-pontine angle A V M with the A I C A and the petrosal vein. I n those cases, a pre-operative embolization o f these feeders m a y be o f great help.

M e t h o d s o f treatment for posterior fossa A V M s include interventional radiology, radiosurgery, and microsurgery. Embolization can reduce the vascular supply and the nidus size o f an A V M but it can achieve a complete cure only in very few cases 9, 27. So, it must


B. George etal.: Arteriovenous Malformations of the Posterior Fossa

Fig. 4. Brain stem AVM with development inside the medulla. Notice the venous drainage on angiography and on MRI

be generally included in a protocol where embolization is associated with surgery or with radiotherapy (Fig. 6). As already mentioned, it is the best treatment in cases of AVF. Embolization can be used to control arterial feeders which would necessitate a different surgical approach to that chosen for AVM resection. For example, a supero-medial AVM fed by the SCA would require a sub-occipital transtentorial or a subtemporal approach to expose and ligate this vessel and a posterior approach to remove the AVM. Intravascular occlusion of the SCA branches permits one to avoid one surgical stage, and embolization of the most anterior part of the nidus facilitates the surgical dissection in an area opposite to the posterior approach. In large and high flow AVMs where a break-through phenomenon might be expected and multistaged surgery is planned, embolization can replace one of the stages; however, no one case of this phenomenon has yet been reported in the literature after the removal of a posterior fossa AVM. Radiosurgery is essentially effective in small volume AVMs. It seems tempting to propose this technique in AVM located close to or in functional areas. However, we are not aware of any experience of treatment of brain stem AVM by this technique; the risk of radiation induced injury which seems to be around 3 %, probably prevents any attempt being made 23. So, radiotherapy

is indicated rather to complete the cure of a large AVM previously reduced by embolization or surgery. In fact, surgery is the best way to obtain a radical cure, the two other forms of treatment being complementary in some cases; pre-operative embolization to help control the vascular supply and radiosurgery to treat a post-operative remnant. Surgical principles for infratentorial AVMs are similar to those for supratentorial ones: a large exposure giving primary access to feeders, microsurgical dissection flush to the nidus, preservation of the main drainage until total control of the nidus has been achieved. Particular attention must be paid to coagulation of all tiny tortuous vessels surrounding the nidus; great care must be taken not to stretch these vessels by compressing the nidus and even by coagulating them so as to avoid their rupture and their retraction inside the parenchyma1,8; control of extent of the resection must be very careful and especially by looking inside the fourth ventricle in vermian and cerebello-pontine angle AVMs, since leaving some AVM behind, may be the source of post-operative haematoma. Post-operative haemorrhage is the main cause of death and disability in Drake's seriesS: 9 out of 66 cases. Haemostasis must be checked carefully and specially if the sitting position is used. Results of treatment in the published series and in

B. George etal.: Arteriovenous Malformations of the Posterior Fossa


Fig. 5. A) Medial AVM (superior) fed by the SCA and drained by the vein of Galen. B) Lateral AVM fed by the AICA (with an aneurysm) and drained by the petrosal vein. C) Deep AVM fed by a perforating branch (same case as Fig. 3 B). D) Extensive AVM fed by the three cerebellar arteries (SCA, AICA, and PICA)

ours indicated a rate of death and disability about twice that for the general series of cerebral AVMs; if brain stem angiomas are considered separately, results are far worse 4' s, 7, 18, 25, 30, 35, 38, 45 (Table 8). This is to be placed in parallel with the high rate of morbidity and mortality after posterior fossa A V M bleeding. How-

ever, better understanding of the localization and vascular arrangement of these AVMs with the help of a combined analysis of M R I and angiography should permit improvement of those results by a better definition of the most adequate therapeutic protocol and of the best surgical strategy.


B. George et al.: Arteriovenous Malformations of the Posterior Fossa

Fig. 6. Medial AVM (superior) treated by embolization and radiosurgery. Left and center: before embolization; right: after embolization before radiosurgery

Table 8. Results of Surgical Treatment of A VMs Worsened C e r e b e l l u m 8, 19,

31, 41

Literature Lariboisi6re Brain stem4' 5, 7, 18, 25, 30, 35, 38,45 Literature Lariboisi6re Total


N = 87 N = 13

7 1

N = 23 N = 2


N = 125


7 -


2 9

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127 35. Solomon RA, Stein BM (1986) Management of arteriovenous malformations of the brain stem. J Neurosurg 64:857-864 36. Spetzler RF, Martin NA (1986) A proposed grading system for arteriovenous malformations. J Neurosurg 65:476-483 37. Stahl SM, Johnson KP, Malamud N (1980) The clinical and pathological spectrum of brain stem vascular malformations. Long term course simulates multiple sclerosis. Arch Neurol 37: 25-29 38. Sugiura K, Baba M (1990) Total removal of an arteriovenous malformation embedded in the brain stem. Surg Neuro134: 327330 39. Suzuki J, Onuma T (1979) Intracranial aneurysms associated with arteriovenous malformations. J Neurosurg 50:742-746 40. Troupp H, Martila I, Halonen V (1970) Arteriovenous malformations of the brain. Prognosis without operation. Acta Neurochir (Wien) 22:125-128 41. Viale GL, Pau A, Viale ES (1979) Surgical treatment of arteriovenous malformations of the posterior fossa. Surg Neurol 12:379-384 42. Voigt K, Ya~argil MG (1976) Cerebral cavernous hemangiomas or caveruomas. Nenrochirurgia (Stuttg) 19:59-68 43. Weil S, Tew JM, Steiner L (1990) Comparison of radiosurgery and microsurgery for treatment of cavernous malformation of the brain stem. Abstract of papers. J Neurosurg 72: 336A 44. Tashiro Y, Uno A, Ishikawa M, Asato R (1986) Intracranial and orbital cavernous angiomas. A review of 30 cases. J Neurosurg 64:197-208 45. Yonekawa Y, Handa H, Taki W (1983) Total removal of a brain stem arteriovenous malformation: Case report. Neurosurgery 13:443-446 46. Yoshimoto T, Suzuki J (1986) Radical surgery on cavernous angioma of the brain stem. Surg Neurol 26:72-78 47. Zimmerman RS, Spetzler RF, Stuart Lee K, Zabramski JM, Hargraves RW (1991) Cavernous malformations of the brain stem. J Neurosnrg 75:32-39

Correspondence and Reprints: Prof. B. George, Service de Neuro-Chirurgie, H6pital Lariboisirre, 2 rue Ambroise Parr, F75010 Paris, France.

Arteriovenous malformations of the posterior fossa.

AVMs of the posterior fossa are reviewed on the basis of personal experience of 47 cases including 2 venous angiomas, 7 cavernous angiomas, 5 arteriov...
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