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The parasellar region and central skull base
  1. Shelley Renowden
  1. Correspondence to Dr Shelley Renowden, Department of Neuroradiology, Frenchay Hospital, NHS Trust, Bristol, UK; Shelley.Renowden{at}

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Patients with endocrine dysfunction rarely seek advice from neurology. However, patients with parasellar disease may be referred because of visual loss, visual field defects, ophthalmoplegia, headache or seizures, each of which may result from compression of parasellar structures by a parasellar mass. Many neoplastic, vascular and inflammatory processes may originate from any of the pituitary, neural, vascular, dural, bony tissues in the area and also the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

MRI is the imaging modality of choice because of its excellent soft tissue resolution, the absence of artefact from adjacent bone and its triplanar imaging capability. CT may confer complementary information if there is suspected primary bony skull base pathology or possible calcification in a parasellar lesion.

Anatomy revisited

The pituitary gland sits in the sella turcica, within the central portion of the sphenoid bone and is covered by dura, the diaphragma sellae (figure 1). The cavernous sinuses (see later) lie on either side. Anteriorly is the tuberculum sella and posteriorly the dorsum sella and clivus. Inferior to the fossa is the sphenoid sinus. The optic chiasm (shaped like a figure of 8 on its side) and hypothalamus are superior in the suprasellar cistern, with the Circle of Willis and anterior end of the third ventricle. The infundibulum, tapering as it descends (3 mm wide at its hypothalamic origin and 2 mm at its insertion into the pituitary), extends from the hypothalamus, passing behind the chiasm, through the diaphragma, to the posterior pituitary. It contains fibres from the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei and fibres, which convey the releasing hormones. The infundibulum often deviates from the midline in normal people. The posterior pituitary returns high T1 signal on MR because vasopressin-associated carrier protein (neurophysin) is a very high molecular weight glycoprotein that complexes with vasopressin to form insoluble crystal aggregates that return high signal on T1W. …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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