Spinal cord disorders: Pathology review


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Spinal cord disorders: Pathology review

Nervous system

Central nervous system disorders

Spina bifida

Chiari malformation

Dandy-Walker malformation


Tethered spinal cord syndrome

Aqueductal stenosis

Septo-optic dysplasia

Cerebral palsy

Spinocerebellar ataxia (NORD)

Transient ischemic attack

Ischemic stroke

Intracerebral hemorrhage

Epidural hematoma

Subdural hematoma

Subarachnoid hemorrhage

Saccular aneurysm

Arteriovenous malformation

Broca aphasia

Wernicke aphasia

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Kluver-Bucy syndrome

Concussion and traumatic brain injury

Shaken baby syndrome


Febrile seizure

Early infantile epileptic encephalopathy (NORD)

Tension headache

Cluster headache


Idiopathic intracranial hypertension

Trigeminal neuralgia

Cavernous sinus thrombosis

Alzheimer disease

Vascular dementia

Frontotemporal dementia

Lewy body dementia

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Normal pressure hydrocephalus


Essential tremor

Restless legs syndrome

Parkinson disease

Huntington disease

Opsoclonus myoclonus syndrome (NORD)

Multiple sclerosis

Central pontine myelinolysis

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis

Transverse myelitis

JC virus (Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy)

Adult brain tumors

Acoustic neuroma (schwannoma)

Pituitary adenoma

Pediatric brain tumors

Brain herniation

Brown-Sequard Syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome

Treponema pallidum (Syphilis)

Vitamin B12 deficiency


Friedreich ataxia

Neurogenic bladder


Neonatal meningitis


Brain abscess

Epidural abscess

Cavernous sinus thrombosis

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Central and peripheral nervous system disorders

Sturge-Weber syndrome

Tuberous sclerosis


von Hippel-Lindau disease

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Peripheral nervous system disorders

Spinal muscular atrophy


Guillain-Barre syndrome

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

Trigeminal neuralgia

Bell palsy

Winged scapula

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Ulnar claw

Erb-Duchenne palsy

Klumpke paralysis


Myasthenia gravis

Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome

Autonomic nervous system disorders

Orthostatic hypotension

Horner syndrome

Nervous system pathology review

Congenital neurological disorders: Pathology review

Headaches: Pathology review

Seizures: Pathology review

Cerebral vascular disease: Pathology review

Traumatic brain injury: Pathology review

Spinal cord disorders: Pathology review

Dementia: Pathology review

Central nervous system infections: Pathology review

Movement disorders: Pathology review

Neuromuscular junction disorders: Pathology review

Demyelinating disorders: Pathology review

Adult brain tumors: Pathology review

Pediatric brain tumors: Pathology review

Neurocutaneous disorders: Pathology review


Spinal cord disorders: Pathology review

USMLE® Step 1 questions

0 / 14 complete


USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE

of complete

A 46-year-old male is brought to the emergency department after being involved in a high-speed motor vehicle injury. The patient was the restrained passenger in a stationary vehicle as he was rear-ended by another vehicle traveling approximately 80 miles per hour. The patient’s neck was hyperflexed during the collision and now feels stiff. He is unable to move his arms or legs. Temperature is 37.0°C (98.6°F), pulse is 110/min, respirations are 9/min, blood pressure is 90/65 mmHg, and O2 saturation is 97% on room air. Neurological exam is notable for bilateral loss of pain and temperature sensation as well as bilateral loss of motor function below C6. Sensation to soft touch and vibration is unaffected. Which of the following is the most likely diagnosis? 


Content Reviewers

Yifan Xiao, MD

Marisa Pedron


Antonia Syrnioti, MD

Alex Aranda

Jake Ryan

Elizabeth Nixon-Shapiro, MSMI, CMI

Megan Gullotto, MSMI

Robyn Hughes, MScBMC

At the physician’s office, 55-year-old Mario presents complaining of weakness in his hands and feet. These symptoms have gradually progressed over the past couple of months. At first, he struggled to manipulate small objects like buttoning his shirt. Now he also often stumbles while walking and recently fell down the stairs. In addition, his family mentions that his speech has become slightly slurred. He denies any sensory symptoms, memory loss or any bowel or bladder complaints. Later that day, 43-year-old Donna comes in with difficulty walking. She has fallen several times over the last few weeks. Her past medical history is significant for HIV infection, which was diagnosed a few years ago. On neurologic examination, her pupils are small and irregularly shaped and do not react to light, but constrict with accommodation. The sensations of pressure, vibration, fine touch and proprioception are also reduced throughout the lower extremities. She has a wide-based gait and cannot maintain balance with her eyes closed.

Based on the initial presentation, both Mario and Donna have some form of spinal cord disorder. Okay, let’s talk about physiology first real quick. If we zoom in at a cross-section of the spinal cord, we’ll see that it is composed of both grey and white matter. Grey matter is found within the medial portion of the spinal cord and has two dorsal or posterior horns that contain cell bodies of sensory neurons and two ventral or anterior horns that contain cell bodies of motor neurons. In the center of the grey matter there’s a small cavity called the central canal which is filled with cerebrospinal fluid that provides nutrients and mechanical support. Surrounding the grey matter is white matter, which consists of the axons of various neurons and they are organized into tracts that carry information to and from the brain.

For your exams, there are a few main tracts to remember. First, there’s the spinothalamic tract which is an ascending pathway and it’s divided into two parts. The lateral tract carries sensory information for pain and temperature, while the anterior tract carries information for crude touch, or the sense one has been touched, without being able to localize where they were touched. For this to happen, a first order neuron, found inside a dorsal root ganglion carries sensory input from the skin to the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, where it synapses with the second order neuron. And that neuron ascends 1-2 vertebral levels and decussates or crosses to the opposite side of the spinal cord via an area of white matter called the anterior white commissure. The secondary neuron then ascends up the length of the spinal cord via the spinothalamic tracts, and eventually synapse with a 3rd order neuron located in the ventral posterior nucleus of the thalamus. This 3rd order neuron then sends its axon up to the sensory cortex of the brain, letting you know that there’s a sensory signal.


The spinal cord is a delicate and complex structure that runs from the brain down the center of the back. Some common spinal cord disorders include Spinal cord injury, which occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord from trauma; Spinal cord tumors, which refers to growths that develop within the spinal cord and can cause pressure on the spinal cord; spinal cord infarction, which is the loss of blood flow to the spinal cord, causing damage to the tissue; degenerative spinal disorders, which include conditions such as spinal stenosis, herniated disc, osteoarthritis); and infections and abscesses. Symptoms vary according to etiology but include fever, pain, weakness, loss of sensation, and paralysis.


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