Branch atheromatous plaque: a major cause of lacunar infarction (high-resolution MRI study)

Cerebrovasc Dis Extra. 2012 Jan;2(1):36-44. doi: 10.1159/000341399. Epub 2012 Jul 27.


Background: Lacunar infarctions account for up to 25% of all ischemic strokes and, thus, constitute a numerically important subgroup. It is important that the two pathogeneses of lacunar infarction, that is, small-vessel occlusion and branch atheromatous disease, be differentiated because prognoses and treatment strategies differ. The authors evaluated the presence of branch atheromatous plaque in parent arteries that supply lacunar infarcts by high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (HR-MRI).

Methods: HR-MRI was performed in 15 patients with (1) a clinical presentation consistent with classical lacunar syndromes; (2) an acute lacunar infarction by diffusion-weighted imaging, measuring ≤20 mm in maximal diameter; (3) a magnetic resonance angiography showing a normal middle cerebral artery or basilar artery supplying the ischemic lesion, and (4) no other obvious etiology for small-vessel distribution ischemic stroke.

Results: The median time of vessel wall imaging after index events was 4 days (range, 2-15 days). Six of the 15 patients had a lacunar infarction in the middle cerebral artery territory, and 9 had a lesion in the basilar artery territory. HR-MRI detected underlying atheromatous plaques in 9 patients (60%) with a lacunar infarction. In these 9 patients, asymptomatic intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis was more frequent compared to patients without branch atheromatous plaque (55.6 vs. 16.7%). In pontine infarctions, ischemic lesions that extended to the pial base of the pons were more frequent in patients with branch atheromatous plaques (83.3 vs. 33.3%), and all the ischemic lesions and atheromatous plaques were on the same side (right, n = 2; left, n = 4). All plaques responsible for acute symptomatic lacunar infarction were enhanced in contrast-enhanced T1-weighted HR-MR images.

Conclusions: HR-MRI results enabled underlying symptomatic branch atheromatous disease to be detected in lacunar infarction patients. The experience gained during this study indicates that HR-MRI better delineates intracranial arterial lesions, suggesting that its use will lead to a further understanding of the mechanisms involved in stroke.

Keywords: Branch atheromatous disease; High-resolution MRI; Lacunar infarction.