Brain microemboli during cardiac surgery or aortography

Ann Neurol. 1990 Oct;28(4):477-86. doi: 10.1002/ana.410280403.


We have observed many focal dilatations or very small aneurysms in terminal arterioles and capillaries of 4 of 5 patients and 6 dogs who had recently undergone cardiopulmonary bypass. A smaller number of sausagelike dilatations distended medium-sized arterioles. Two other patients had a small number of the same microvascular changes following proximal aortography. Thirty-four patients and 6 dogs not undergoing cardiopulmonary bypass had none. (A 35th patient who had not undergone cardiopulmonary bypass or aortography showed a small number of dilatations; mediastinal air was a suggested source.) Some of the dilatations exhibited various forms of birefringence. Because most of the dilatations appear empty, we speculate that they are the sites of gas bubbles or fat emboli that have been removed by the solvents used in processing. These microvascular events, occurring only in conjunction with major arterial interventions, may be the anatomical correlate of the neurological deficits or moderate to severe intellectual dysfunction seen in at least 24% of patients after cardiac surgical procedures assisted by cardiopulmonary bypass.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / analysis
  • Animals
  • Arterioles / enzymology
  • Arterioles / pathology*
  • Capillaries / enzymology
  • Capillaries / pathology*
  • Cardiopulmonary Bypass / adverse effects*
  • Cattle
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / etiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / pathology
  • Dilatation, Pathologic / etiology
  • Humans
  • Microcirculation
  • Middle Aged


  • Alkaline Phosphatase