Temporal bone encephalocele and cerebrospinal fluid fistula repair utilizing the middle cranial fossa or combined mastoid-middle cranial fossa approach

Matthew L. Carlson, William R. Copeland, Colin L. Driscoll, Michael J. Link, David S. Haynes, Reid C. Thompson, Kyle D. Weaver, George B. Wanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Object: The goals of this study were to report the clinical presentation, radiographic findings, operative strategy, and outcomes among patients with temporal bone encephaloceles and cerebrospinal fluid fistulas (CSFFs) and to identify clinical variables associated with surgical outcome. Methods: A retrospective case series including all patients who underwent a middle fossa craniotomy or combined mastoid-middle cranial fossa repair of encephalocele and/or CSFF between 2000 and 2012 was accrued from 2 tertiary academic referral centers. Results: Eighty-nine consecutive surgeries (86 patients, 59.3% women) were included. The mean age at time of surgery was 52.3 years, and the left side was affected in 53.9% of cases. The mean delay between symptom onset and diagnosis was 35.4 months, and the most common presenting symptoms were hearing loss (92.1%) and persistent ipsilateral otorrhea (73.0%). Few reported a history of intracranial infection (6.7%) or seizures (2.2%). Thirteen (14.6%) of 89 cases had a history of major head trauma, 23 (25.8%) were associated with chronic ear disease without prior operation, 17 (19.1%) occurred following tympanomastoidectomy, and 1 (1.1%) developed in a patient with a cerebral aqueduct cyst resulting in obstructive hydrocephalus. The remaining 35 cases (39.3%) were considered spontaneous. Among all patients, the mean body mass index (BMI) was 35.3 kg/m2, and 46.4% exhibited empty sella syndrome. Patients with spontaneous lesions were statistically significantly older (p = 0.007) and were more commonly female (p = 0.048) compared with those with nonspontaneous pathology. Additionally, those with spontaneous lesions had a greater BMI than those with nonspontaneous disease (p = 0.102), although this difference did not achieve statistical significance. Thirty-two surgeries (36.0%) involved a middle fossa craniotomy alone, whereas 57 (64.0%) involved a combined mastoid-middle fossa repair. There were 7 recurrences (7.9%); 2 patients with recurrence developed meningitis. The use of artificial titanium mesh was statistically associated with the development of recurrent CSFF (p = 0.004), postoperative wound infection (p = 0.039), and meningitis (p = 0.014). Also notable, 6 of the 7 cases with recurrence had evidence of intracranial hypertension. When the 11 cases that involved using titanium mesh were excluded, 96.2% of patients whose lesions were reconstructed with an autologous multilayer repair had neither recurrent CSFF nor meningitis at the last follow-up. Conclusions: Patients with temporal bone encephalocele and CSFF commonly present with persistent otorrhea and conductive hearing loss mimicking chronic middle ear disease, which likely contributes to a delay in diagnosis. There is a high prevalence of obesity among this patient population, which may play a role in the pathogenesis of primary and recurrent disease. A middle fossa craniotomy or a combined mastoid-middle fossa approach incorporating a multilayer autologous tissue technique is a safe and reliable method of repair that may be particularly useful for large or multifocal defects. Defect reconstruction using artificial titanium mesh should generally be avoided given increased risks of recurrence and postoperative meningitis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1314-1322
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • Cerebrospinal fluid fistula
  • Cerebrospinal fluid leak
  • Encephalocele
  • Idiopathic intracranial hypertension
  • Meningitis
  • Meningoencephalocele
  • Middle cranial fossa
  • Temporal bone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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