Background and purpose: The phrase "time is brain" emphasizes that human nervous tissue is rapidly lost as stroke progresses and emergent evaluation and therapy are required. Recent advances in quantitative neurostereology and stroke neuroimaging permit calculation of just how much brain is lost per unit time in acute ischemic stroke.
Methods: Systematic literature-review identified consensus estimates of number of neurons, synapses, and myelinated fibers in the human forebrain; volume of large vessel, supratentorial ischemic stroke; and interval from onset to completion of large vessel, supratentorial ischemic stroke.
Results: The typical final volume of large vessel, supratentorial ischemic stroke is 54 mL (varied in sensitivity analysis from 19 to 100 mL). The average duration of nonlacunar stroke evolution is 10 hours (range 6 to 18 hours), and the average number of neurons in the human forebrain is 22 billion. In patients experiencing a typical large vessel acute ischemic stroke, 120 million neurons, 830 billion synapses, and 714 km (447 miles) of myelinated fibers are lost each hour. In each minute, 1.9 million neurons, 14 billion synapses, and 12 km (7.5 miles) of myelinated fibers are destroyed. Compared with the normal rate of neuron loss in brain aging, the ischemic brain ages 3.6 years each hour without treatment. Altering single input variables in sensitivity analyses modestly affected the estimated point values but not order of magnitude.
Conclusions: Quantitative estimates of the pace of neural circuitry loss in human ischemic stroke emphasize the time urgency of stroke care. The typical patient loses 1.9 million neurons each minute in which stroke is untreated.