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Free Content Imaging Findings in Dorsal Thoracic Arachnoid Web and the Differential Diagnosis of “Scalpel Sign”

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A dorsal thoracic arachnoid web represents an intradural extramedullary transverse band of arachnoid tissue that causes mass effect and dorsal cord indentation, and can or cannot be associated with spinal cord altered signal. On sagittal MR imaging, this focal dorsal indentation of the thoracic spinal cord resembles a scalpel with its blade pointing posteriorly (called a “scalpel sign”). Although very suggestive of dorsal thoracic arachnoid web, this sign is not specific and should be differentiated from other ventral cord displacement causes (eg, idiopathic spinal cord herniation and spinal arachnoid cyst). In idiopathic spinal cord herniation, cord tissue protrudes through a ventral dural defect, and the focal deformity can be seen along the ventral aspect of the cord on spinal axial MR imaging and with a characteristic “C sign” on sagittal MR imaging; in spinal arachnoid cysts, the marginated walls and the presence of smooth, wide scalloping of the cord surface can be identified. Recognition of these imaging findings, especially the scalpel sign, can help radiologists and clinicians make a correct diagnosis of ventral cord displacement causes and allow subsequent prompt treatment for the patient.
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Keywords: DTAW = dorsal thoracic arachnoid web; ISCH = idiopathic spinal cord herniation; SAC = spinal arachnoid cyst

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2020

More about this publication?
  • Neurographics is the peer-reviewed, bimonthly educational journal of the American Society of Neuroradiology. The journal comprises articles selected from material presented at the ASNR Annual Meeting. Neurographics also publishes other high-quality submissions that are primarily educational and have a high emphasis on a pictorial approach. Neurographics offers CME credit for reading review articles and completing quiz-based self-assessment activities.

    Visit the ASNR Education Connection to view all available CME courses.

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