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The embryonic occipital bone and odontoid process of the axis are attached and connected by the notochord, but become separated in later development and growth. With special attention to the process of separation, we examined sagittal sections of the craniocervical junction in 18 human fetuses at 8-16 weeks and 22 fetuses at 31-37 weeks. At 8-9 weeks, the anterior arch of atlas was always seen overriding the occipital basal part. The odontoid process was close to the occipital with or without a transient joint cavity until 16 weeks. Near term, the top of the odontoid process was usually higher than the anterior arch, but the former was sometimes (7 of 22) at a level almost equal to or lower than the latter. The apical ligament was evident in a few specimens (5 of 22). A distance between the occipital basion and odontoid process was sometimes less than 1.5 mm (8 of 22) or less than half the thickness of the arch (10 of 22). A transient joint cavity between the basion and odontoid process was often (10 of 22). In three fetuses near term, the atlanto-occipital joint cavity was continuous with the median atlanto-axial joint cavity, and the anterior arch was overriding the occipital basal part. Therefore, rather than stage or age, individual differences were evident in the topographical relationship between the three bony elements at the craniocervical junction. An understanding of the embryology and normal development will aid in the correct interpretation of radiologic images of the pediatric cervical spine. © 2020 American Association for Anatomy.


Michitake Ishii, Kwang Ho Cho, Kei Kitamura, Masahito Yamamoto, Gen Murakami, José Francisco Rodríguez-Vázquez, Shin-Ichi Abe. Development and growth of the craniocervical junction with special reference to topographical relationship between the occipital basion, the anterior arch of atlas, and the odontoid process of axis: A study using human fetuses. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J. : 2007). 2021 Feb;304(2):353-365

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PMID: 32396695

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