, Volume 35, Issue 8, pp 701-711,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 Feb 2013

Cross-sectional study of the neural ossification centers of vertebrae C1–S5 in the human fetus

Abstract

Purpose

An understanding of the normal evolution of the spine is of great relevance in the prenatal detection of spinal abnormalities. This study was carried out to estimate the length, width, cross-sectional area and volume of the neural ossification centers of vertebrae C1–S5 in the human fetus.

Materials and methods

Using the methods of CT (Biograph mCT), digital-image analysis (Osirix 3.9) and statistics (the one-way ANOVA test for paired data, the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test, Levene’s test, Student’s t test, the one-way ANOVA test for unpaired data with post hoc RIR Tukey comparisons) the size for the neural ossification centers throughout the spine in 55 spontaneously aborted human fetuses (27 males, 28 females) at ages of 17–30 weeks was studied.

Results

The neural ossification centers were visualized in the whole pre-sacral spine, in 74.5 % for S1, in 61.8 % for S2, in 52.7 % for S3, and in 12.7 % for S4. Neither male–female nor right–left significant differences in the size of neural ossification centers were found. The neural ossification centers were the longest within the cervical spine. The maximum values referred to the axis on the right, and to C5 vertebra on the left. There was a gradual decrease in length for the neural ossification centers of T1–S4 vertebrae. The neural ossification centers were the widest within the proximal thoracic spine and narrowed bi-directionally. The growth dynamics for CSA of neural ossification centers were found to parallel that of volume. The largest CSAs and volumes of neural ossification centers were found in the C3 vertebra, and decreased in the distal direction.

Conclusions

The neural ossification centers show neither male–female nor right–left differences. The neural ossification centers are characterized by the maximum length for C2–C6 vertebrae, the maximum width for the proximal thoracic spine, and both the maximum cross-sectional area and volume for C3 vertebra. There is a sharp decrease in size of the neural ossification centers along the sacral spine. A decreasing sequence of values for neural ossification centers along the spine from cervical to sacral appears to parallel the same direction of the timing of ossification. The quantitative growth of the neural ossification centers is of potential relevance in the prenatal diagnosis and monitoring of achondrogenesis, caudal regression syndrome, diastematomyelia and spina bifida.