Cervical vascular and upper airway asymmetry in velo-cardio-facial syndrome: Correlation of nasopharyngoscopy with MRA

Avi G. Oppenheimer, Susan Fulmer, Keivan Shifteh, Ja Kwei Chang, Allan Brook, Alan L. Shanske, Robert J. Shprintzen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Purpose: Velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS), the most common genetic syndrome causing cleft palate, is associated with internal carotid and vertebral artery anomalies, as well as upper airway asymmetry. Medially displaced internal carotid arteries, often immediately submucosal, present a risk of vascular injury during pharyngeal flap surgery for velopharyngeal insufficiency (VPI). We evaluate the frequency and spectrum of cervical vascular anomalies in a large cohort of VCFS patients correlating MRA with nasopharyngolaryngoscopy in detecting at risk carotid arteries. Furthermore, we assess the relationship with respect to laterality between cervical vascular patterns and the asymmetric abnormalities of these subjects' upper airways. Methods: Cervical MRAs of 86 subjects with VCFS and 50 control subjects were independently reviewed by three neuroradiologists. The course of the internal carotid and vertebral arteries was identified within the pharyngeal soft tissues. Medial deviation, level of bifurcation, dominance, anomalous origin, and vessel tortuosity were recorded. Nasopharyngoscopy examinations were available for retrospective review in 43 patients and were assessed for palatal and posterior pharyngeal wall symmetry, true vocal cord motion and size, and for the presence or absence of carotid pulsations. The endoscopic findings were compared with MRA results. Results: Of the 86 subjects, 80 (93%) had one or more vascular anomalies. 42 subjects (49%) were found to have medial deviation of at least one internal carotid artery. In 24 subjects (28%) the anomalous internal carotid artery was directly submucosal; four of these were bilateral (5% of the total sample, 17% of those with a submucosal internal carotid). Other carotid anomalies included low carotid bifurcation (44 subjects or 51%), anomalous origin of the right common carotid (32 cases, or 37%), and two cases of internal carotid agenesis/hypoplasia. Vertebral artery anomalies included vessel tortuosity (34 cases, or 40%), hypoplasia (10 cases, or 12%), looping (4 cases, or 5%), and one case of a double left vertebral artery. Though patients in our study showed an asymmetric distribution of vascular anomalies, no association was found between the laterality of palatal motion, pharyngeal fullness, or laryngeal movement and structure with ipsilateral vertebral or carotid artery anomalies. Of the 33 pulsatile carotid arteries visualized at nasopharyngoscopy, only nine were found to be submucosal on MRA. In contrast, 11 submucosal carotid arteries confirmed at MRA demonstrated no visible pulsations. Positive and negative predictive values of pulsative arteries seen endoscopically for MRA confirmation of a submucosal carotid course was 27% and 79% respectively. Conclusions: Carotid and vertebral artery anomalies are common in VCFS including marked medial deviation of the internal carotid artery in close proximity to the donor site for pharyngeal flap surgery. Lack of correlation between laterality of vascular anomalies and upper airway structural asymmetry in VCFS does not support the hypothesis that palatal, pharyngeal, and laryngeal anomalies are due to secondary developmental sequences caused by in utero vascular insufficiency. The presence or absence of carotid pulsations seen by nasopharyngoscopy does not correlate with the carotid arterial depth identified on MRA. Furthermore, identification of the relative medial-lateral retropharyngeal position of a submucosal carotid affords the opportunity to modify the surgical approach. These findings further support the routine use of pre-operative neck MRA in VCFS patients in surgical planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-625
Number of pages7
JournalInternational journal of pediatric otorhinolaryngology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Chromosome 22 deletion
  • MRA
  • Nasopharyngoscopy
  • Pharynx
  • Vascular abnormalities
  • Velo-cardio-facial syndrome (VCFS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Otorhinolaryngology


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