Full explanation for the pathogenesis of syringomyelia (SM), a neuropathology characterized by the formation of a cystic cavity (syrinx) in the spinal cord (SC), has not yet been provided. It has been hypothesized that abnormal cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) pressure, caused by subarachnoid space (SAS) flow blockage (stenosis), is an underlying cause of syrinx formation and subsequent pain in the patient. However, paucity in detailed in vivo pressure data has made theoretical explanations for the syrinx difficult to reconcile. In order to understand the complex pressure environment, four simplified in vitro models were constructed to have anatomical similarities with post-traumatic SM and Chiari malformation related SM. Experimental geometry and properties were based on in vivo data and incorporated pertinent elements such as a realistic CSF flow waveform, spinal stenosis, syrinx, flexible SC, and flexible spinal column. The presence of a spinal stenosis in the SAS caused peak-to-peak cerebrospinal fluid CSF pressure fluctuations to increase rostral to the stenosis. Pressure with both stenosis and syrinx present was complex. Overall, the interaction of the syrinx and stenosis resulted in a diastolic valve mechanism and rostral tensioning of the SC. In all experiments, the blockage was shown to increase and dissociate SAS pressure, while the axial pressure distribution in the syrinx remained uniform. These results highlight the importance of the properties of the SC and spinal SAS, such as compliance and permeability, and provide data for comparison with computational models. Further research examining the influence of stenosis size and location, and the importance of tissue properties, is warranted.

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