Early postischemic hyperperfusion: pathophysiologic insights from positron emission tomography

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 1999 May;19(5):467-82. doi: 10.1097/00004647-199905000-00001.


Early postischemic hyperperfusion (EPIH) has long been documented in animal stroke models and is the hallmark of efficient recanalization of the occluded artery with subsequent reperfusion of the tissue (although occasionally it may be seen in areas bordering the hypoperfused area during arterial occlusion). In experimental stroke, early reperfusion has been reported to both prevent infarct growth and aggravate edema formation and hemorrhage, depending on the severity and duration of prior ischemia and the efficiency of reperfusion, whereas neuronal damage with or without enlarged infarction also may result from reperfusion (so-called "reperfusion injury"). In humans, focal hyperperfusion in the subacute stage (i.e., more than 48 hours after onset) has been associated with tissue necrosis in most instances, but regarding the acute stage, its occurrence, its relations with tissue metabolism and viability, and its clinical prognostic value were poorly understood before the advent of positron emission tomography (PET), in part because of methodologic issues. By measuring both CBF and metabolism, PET is an ideal imaging modality to study the pathophysiologic mechanism of EPIH. Although only a few PET studies have been performed in the acute stage that have systematically assessed tissue and clinical outcome in relation to EPIH, they have provided important insights. In one study, about one third of the patients with first-ever middle cerebral artery (MCA) territory stroke studied within 5 to 18 hours after symptom onset exhibited EPIH. In most cases, EPIH affected large parts of the cortical MCA territory in a patchy fashion, together with abnormal vasodilation (increased cerebral blood volume), "luxury perfusion" (decreased oxygen extraction fraction), and mildly increased CMRO2, which was interpreted as postischemic rebound of cellular metabolism in structurally preserved tissue. In that study, the spontaneous outcome of the tissue exhibiting EPIH was good, with late structural imaging not showing infarction. This observation was supported by another PET study, which showed, in a few patients, that previously hypoperfused tissue that later exhibited hyperperfusion after thrombolysis did not undergo frank infarction at follow-up. In both studies, clinical outcome was excellent in all patients showing EPIH except one, but in this case the hyperperfused area coexisted with an extensive area of severe hypoperfusion and hypometabolism. These findings from human studies therefore suggest that EPIH is not detrimental for the tissue, which contradicts the experimental concept of "reperfusion injury" but is consistent with the apparent clinical benefit from thrombolysis. However, PET studies performed in the cat have shown that although hyperperfusion was associated with prolonged survival and lack of histologic infarction when following brief (30-minute) MCA occlusion, it often was associated with poor outcome and extensive infarction when associated with longer (60-minute) MCA occlusion. It is unclear whether this discrepancy with human studies reflects a shorter window for tissue survival after stroke in cats, points to the cat being more prone to reperfusion injury, or indicates that EPIH tends not to develop in humans after severe or prolonged ischemia because of a greater tendency for the no-reflow phenomenon, for example. Nevertheless, the fact that the degree of hyperperfusion in these cat studies was related to the severity of prior flow reduction suggests that hyperperfusion is not detrimental per se. Preliminary observations in temporary MCA occlusion in baboons suggest that hyperperfusion developing even after 6 hours of occlusion is mainly cortical and associated with no frank infarction, as in humans. Overall, therefore, PET studies in both humans and the experimental animal, including the baboon, suggest that hyperperfusion is not a key factor in the development of tissue infarction and that it may be a harmless phenomenon

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology
  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Hemodynamics / physiology
  • Humans
  • Reperfusion Injury*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon
  • Treatment Outcome