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Dandy-Walker syndrome (DWS), or Dandy-Walker complex, is a congenital brain malformation involving the cerebellum and the fluid filled spaces around it. A key feature of this syndrome is the partial or even complete absence of the part of the brain located between the two cerebellar hemispheres (cerebellar vermis). The Dandy-Walker complex is a genetically sporadic disorder that occurs one in every 25,000 live births, mostly in females.
The key features of this syndrome are an enlargement of the fourth ventricle; a partial or complete absence of the cerebellar vermis, the posterior midline area of cerebellar cortex responsible for coordination of the axial musculature; and cyst formation near the internal base of the skull. An increase in the size of the fluid spaces surrounding the brain as well as an increase in pressure may also be present. The syndrome can appear dramatically or develop unnoticed.
Symptoms, which often occur in early infancy, include slower motor development and progressive enlargement of the skull. In older children, symptoms of increased intracranial pressure such as irritability, vomiting and convulsions and signs of cerebellar dysfunction such as unsteadiness and lack of muscle coordination or jerky movements of the eyes may occur. Other symptoms include increased head circumference, bulging at the back of the skull, problems with the nerves that control the eyes, face and neck, and abnormal breathing patterns.
Dandy-Walker syndrome is frequently associated with disorders of other areas of the central nervous system including absence of the corpus callosum, the bundle of axons connecting the two cerebral hemispheres, and malformations of the heart, face, limbs, fingers and toes.
Prenatal diagnosis is possible with ultrasound. Because the syndrome is associated with an increased risk for fetal karyotype abnormalities, amniocentesis can be offered after prenatal diagnosis. There is a relative contraindication of taking Warfarin during pregnancy, as it is associated with an increased risk of Dandy-Walker syndrome if taken during the first trimester.