Ultrastructural pathological features of cerebrovascular malformations: a preliminary report

Neurosurgery. 2000 Jun;46(6):1454-9. doi: 10.1097/00006123-200006000-00027.


Objective: Although cerebrovascular malformations have been characterized histologically, a systematic examination of such lesions by transmission electron microscopy has not been previously published. In this preliminary study, we describe the ultrastructural pathological features of cerebral arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and cavernous malformations (CMs).

Methods: Using transmission electron microscopy, we examined three CMs and three AVMs microsurgically harvested from patients, for conventional indications. Normal control cerebral tissue was obtained from two patients undergoing surgery for epilepsy. Specific attention was directed at components of the vascular wall, endothelial cell (EC) morphology, intercellular tight junctions, and the subendothelial layer.

Results: In embolized AVM vessels, ECs were disrupted, with preservation of the underlying subendothelial vessel wall. Nidal vessel walls of AVMs showed disorganized collagen bundles. In CM specimens, ECs lined attenuated cavern walls that were composed of an amorphous material lacking organized collagen. Peripheral to the CMs, capillaries were often surrounded by rings of hemosiderin. Tight junctions between ECs were present in AVMs and control specimens, but substantial inter-EC gaps were found in CMs. Subendothelial smooth muscle cells were present in AVM and control specimens, but they were sparse or poorly characterized in CMs.

Conclusion: Surgically resected vascular malformations demonstrate abnormal ultrastructural pathological features. The preoperative embolization of AVMs results in EC denudation, with preservation of vessel wall structural integrity. The thin walls of CMs, lacking significant subendothelial support, along with the rarity of intact tight junctions between ECs, may contribute to the known propensity of CMs for recurrent microhemorrhage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / surgery
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery
  • Child
  • Collagen / ultrastructure
  • Endothelium, Vascular / pathology
  • Female
  • Hemangioma, Cavernous, Central Nervous System / pathology*
  • Hemangioma, Cavernous, Central Nervous System / surgery
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Junctions / ultrastructure
  • Intracranial Arteriovenous Malformations / pathology*
  • Intracranial Arteriovenous Malformations / surgery
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microsurgery
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / pathology


  • Collagen