Border zone infarcts: pathophysiologic and imaging characteristics

Radiographics. 2011 Sep-Oct;31(5):1201-14. doi: 10.1148/rg.315105014.


Border zone or watershed infarcts are ischemic lesions that occur in characteristic locations at the junction between two main arterial territories. These lesions constitute approximately 10% of all brain infarcts and are well described in the literature. Their pathophysiology has not yet been fully elucidated, but a commonly accepted hypothesis holds that decreased perfusion in the distal regions of the vascular territories leaves them vulnerable to infarction. Two types of border zone infarcts are recognized: external (cortical) and internal (subcortical). To select the most appropriate methods for managing these infarcts, it is important to understand the underlying causal mechanisms. Internal border zone infarcts are caused mainly by hemodynamic compromise, whereas external border zone infarcts are believed to result from embolism but not always with associated hypoperfusion. Various imaging modalities have been used to determine the presence and extent of hemodynamic compromise or misery perfusion in association with border zone infarcts, and some findings (eg, multiple small internal infarcts) have proved to be independent predictors of subsequent ischemic stroke. A combination of several advanced techniques (eg, diffusion and perfusion magnetic resonance imaging and computed tomography, positron emission tomography, transcranial Doppler ultrasonography) can be useful for identifying the pathophysiologic process, making an early clinical diagnosis, guiding management, and predicting the outcome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Infarction / classification
  • Brain Infarction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Infarction / etiology
  • Brain Infarction / physiopathology
  • Brain Ischemia / etiology
  • Brain Ischemia / prevention & control
  • Cerebellum / blood supply
  • Cerebral Angiography / methods
  • Cerebral Arteries / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Constriction, Pathologic
  • Eosinophilia / complications
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Embolism / complications
  • Intracranial Embolism / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Perfusion Imaging / methods
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Prognosis
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Transcranial