Correlation between curve severity, somatosensory evoked potentials, and magnetic resonance imaging in adolescent idiopathic scoliosis

Jack C.Y. Cheng, Xia Guo, Andy H.L. Sher, Yu Leung Chan, Con Metreweli

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

91 Citations (Scopus)


Study Design. A prospective study in patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis of different clinical severity using whole-spine magnetic resonance imaging and somatosensory evoked potentials. Objectives. To correlate the presence of magnetic resonance imaging structural abnormalities with somatosensory evoked potential-detected functional disorders in the hind brain and spinal cord and the Cobb's angle in patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis and to compare the result with those in healthy matched control subjects. Summary of Background Data. Many different types of neurologic dysfunction have been reported in scoliosis. With the advent of magnetic resonance imaging, there are increased reports on the association of idiopathic scoliosis and syringomyelia, Chiari I malformation, or tonsillar ectopia. The actual link between structural and functional disorder in idiopathic scoliosis is, however, unclear. Methods. Posterior tibial nerve evoked potentials and whole-spine magnetic resonance imaging were performed in 36 healthy control subjects, 135 patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis with Cobb's angle less than 45 °, and 29 patients with Cobb's angle more than 45 °. Results. Tonsillar ectopia or syringomyelia, detected by magnetic resonance imaging, or functional disturbance in the somatosensory pathway, detected by somatosensory evoked potentials, was found to be significantly more frequent in the group of patients with severe scoliosis curvature, with an incidence of 31% and 27.6%, respectively. Incidence of tonsillar ectopia was 33.3% in patients with abnormal somatosensory evoked potentials in contrast to the much lower incidence of 2.9% in patients with normal somatosensory evoked potentials. There was a significant structural and functional link. The incidence of syringomyelia in patients with and without tonsillar ectopia was 33.3% and 0.7%, respectively. Conclusions. In patients with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis with severe curve, the significant association with tonsillar ectopia and abnormal somatosensory function points to a neural origin. Disorders in the somatosensory function may be one of the mechanisms linking tonsillar ectopia to scoliosis. Somatosensory evoked potentials and magnetic resonance imaging may have important diagnostic and predictive value and may help in the management of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1679-1684
Number of pages6
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis
  • Chiari I malformation
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Somatosensory evoked potentials
  • Syringomyelia
  • Tonsillar ectopia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology


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