Key features of Joubert syndrome include developmental delay, hypotonia, hyperpnea and apnea, oculomotor apraxia, and the presence of the molar tooth sign on axial imaging through the brainstem isthmus--the junction of the pons and mesencephalon. Interestingly, 1 in 10 patients with Joubert syndrome has abnormal cerebrospinal fluid collections misdiagnosed as Dandy-Walker variants. Because of important differences in patient management, genetic counseling, and prognosis between these conditions, we undertook a study to determine if the brainstem isthmus is normal in Dandy-Walker syndrome. Using standard landmarks, we evaluated development of the isthmus in normal subjects and in subjects with Joubert syndrome and Dandy-Walker syndrome. Four of five brainstem measures increased with age in normal subjects. In subjects with Joubert syndrome, the depth and length of the interpeduncular fossa were increased, and the width of the isthmus was decreased. In subjects with Dandy-Walker syndrome, the width of the brainstem isthmus was normal, and the molar tooth sign was absent. Although the pons can be hypoplastic in Dandy-Walker syndrome, we conclude that the pontomesencephalic junction is normal. Thus, the molar tooth sign can effectively distinguish between Joubert and Dandy-Walker syndromes. Genetic heterogeneity or epigenetic factors may account for abnormal cerebrospinal fluid collections in some cases of Joubert syndrome.
Quantitative assessment of brainstem development in Joubert syndrome and Dandy-Walker syndrome