PURPOSE: To define the variations of the courses of the cranial nerves and the inferior petrosal sinuses as they enter and traverse the jugular foramen. METHODS: Thirty-nine cadaveric specimens containing the jugular foramen were scanned with 1-mm contiguous axial and coronal CT sections. Each specimen was dissected to evaluate the position of the cranial nerves and inferior petrosal sinus as they entered the jugular foramen. RESULTS: The glossopharyngeal nerve entered the most superior, anterior, and medial aspect of the jugular foramen and descended in the anterior portion of the jugular foramen, often within a groove. The vagus and accessory nerves could not be separated by CT. They entered the jugular foramen most often anterior or anterior and inferior to the jugular spine of the temporal bone and descended in a position ranging from medial to anterior to the jugular vein. The inferior petrosal sinus most often coursed inferior to the horizontal portion of the glossopharyngeal nerve and entered the jugular system in the jugular foramen, at the exocranial opening or below the skull base. A pars nervosa and pars venosa could be identified only at the endocranial opening, where the jugular spine separated the pars nervosa containing the inferior petrosal sinus and three cranial nerves from the pars venosa containing the jugular vein. CONCLUSION: Our evaluation demonstrated anatomic variation in the area of the jugular foramen.
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