Cavernous malformations of the optic pathway and hypothalamus: Analysis of 65 cases in the literature

James K. Liu, Yuan Lu, Ahmed M. Raslan, S. Humayun Gultekin, Johnny B. Delashaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Object: Cavernous malformations (CMs) of the optic pathway and hypothalamus (OPH) are extremely rare. Patients with these lesions typically present with chiasmal apoplexy, characterized by sudden visual loss, acute headaches, retroorbital pain, and nausea. Surgical removal is the recommended treatment to restore or preserve vision and to eliminate the risk of future hemorrhage. However, the anatomical location and eloquence of nearby neural structures can make these lesions difficult to access and remove. In this study, the authors review the literature for reported cases of OPH CMs to analyze clinical and radiographic presentations as well as surgical approaches and neurological outcomes. Methods: A MEDLINE/PubMed search was performed, revealing 64 cases of OPH CMs. The authors report an additional case in the study, making a total of 65 cases. Each case was analyzed for clinical presentation, lesion location, radiographic features, treatment method, and visual outcome. Results: In 65 patients with OPH CMs, the optic chiasm was affected in 54 cases, the optic nerve(s) in 35, the optic tract in 13, and the hypothalamus in 5. Loss of visual field and acuity was the most common presenting symptom (98%), followed by headache (60%). The onset of symptoms was acute in 58% of patients, subacute in 15%, and chronic progressive in 26%. Computed tomography scans revealed hyperdense suprasellar lesions, with calcification visible in 56% of cases. Magnetic resonance imaging typically demonstrated a heterogeneous lesion with mixed signal intensities suggestive of blood of different ages. The lesion was often surrounded by a peripheral rim of hypointensity on T2-weighted images in 60% of cases. Minimal or no enhancement occurred after the administration of gadolinium. Hemorrhage was reported in 82% of cases. Most patients were surgically treated (97%) using gross-total resection (60%), subtotal resection (6%), biopsy procedure alone (6%), biopsy procedure with decompression (23%), and biopsy procedure followed by radiation (2%). Those patients who underwent gross-total resection had the highest rate of visual improvement (85%). Two patients were treated conservatively, resulting in complete blindness in 1 patient and spontaneous recovery of vision in the other patient. Conclusions: Cavernous malformations of the OPH are rare and challenging lesions. Gross-total resection of these lesions is associated with favorable visual outcomes. Emergent surgery is warranted in patients presenting with chiasmal apoplexy to prevent permanent damage to the visual pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Cavernous malformation
  • Hypothalamus
  • Optic pathway
  • Suprasellar lesion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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