Ligament of Barkow of the craniocervical junction: Its anatomy and potential clinical and functional significance - Laboratory investigation

R. Shane Tubbs, Joshua Dixon, Marios Loukas, Mohammadali M. Shoja, Aaron A. Cohen-Gadol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


Object. Knowledge of the anatomy of the ligaments that unite the head with the neck is important to the clinician who treats patients with lesions in this region. Although the anatomy and function of these ligaments have been well described, those of the Barkow ligament (BL) have yet to be studied. Methods. Via an anterior approach, 13 unembalmed adult cadavers underwent dissection of the craniocervical junction with special attention to the presence, anatomy, and function of the BL. Results. The BL was found in 92.3% of specimens. The attachment of each ligament onto the medial aspect of the occipital condyle was consistent and just anterior to the attachment of the alar ligaments. In 75% of specimens, there was some connection between the BL and the anterior atlantooccipital membrane. Connections between other adjacent ligamentous structures were not identified. The average width, length, and thickness of the BL were 4, 2.5, and 3.5 mm, respectively. With ranges of motion of the craniocervical junction, only extension of the atlantooccipital joint produced tension in the BL. The mean tension to failure of the ligament was 28 N. Statistical analysis revealed no significant difference in width, length, and thickness of the ligaments based on sex. Conclusions. The BL was found in all but 1 of our specimens. This ligament appears to resist extension of the atlantooccipital joint and may be synergistic with the anterior atlantooccipital membrane. Interestingly, the function of this ligament as found in this study relies on the integrity of the transverse ligament. Knowledge of this ligament may aid in further understanding craniocervical stability and help in differentiating normal from pathological tissue using imaging modalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-622
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2010



  • Anatomy
  • Barkow ligament
  • Craniocervical
  • Stability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Surgery
  • Neurology

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