Interrelationships of the pia mater and the perivascular (Virchow-Robin) spaces in the human cerebrum

J Anat. 1990 Jun;170:111-23.


Biopsies of histologically normal adult human cerebral cortex, underlying white matter and overlying leptomeninges were taken from frontal and temporal lobectomy specimens excised during the removal of cerebral tumours. Multiple blocks from 6 patients (aged 18-53 years) were examined by light and transmission electron microscopy. A thin sheath of pia mater cells was found to surround completely arterioles and arteries in the brain, in the subpial space and in the subarachnoid space. Pia mater cells, forming the perivascular sheath, were identified by the presence of desmosomes or small nexus junctions and by continuity with the pia mater itself. The presence of the pial sheath suggests that the perivascular spaces around intracerebral arteries are in direct continuity with the perivascular spaces around subarachnoid arteries. No similar pial sheath was observed around intracerebral or subpial venules. The role of the periarterial spaces, enclosed by the pial sheath, is discussed in relation to the results of physiological experiments suggesting drainage of interstitial fluid from brain tissue into the perivascular pathways along major cerebral arteries in the subarachnoid space. As arterioles in the brain become smaller and lose their smooth muscle coats, the pial sheath becomes incomplete. The anatomical relationships between the pia mater and blood vessels in the human cerebrum is summarised diagrammatically, and a possible role for pial cells as an enzymic barrier protecting the brain from exogenous catecholamines is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arterioles / ultrastructure
  • Brain / ultrastructure*
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged
  • Pia Mater / blood supply
  • Pia Mater / ultrastructure*
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Subarachnoid Space / blood supply
  • Venules / ultrastructure