Infarct patterns, collaterals and likely causative mechanisms of stroke in symptomatic intracranial atherosclerosis

Cerebrovasc Dis. 2014;37(6):417-22. doi: 10.1159/000362922. Epub 2014 Jul 4.


Background: There are limited data on the specific mechanisms of stroke in patients with intracranial atherosclerotic stenosis (ICAS). We undertook this study to describe infarct patterns and likely mechanisms of stroke in a large cohort of patients with ICAS, and to evaluate the relationship of these infarct patterns to angiographic features (collaterals, stenosis location and stenosis severity).

Methods: We evaluated infarct patterns in the territory of a stenotic intracranial artery on neuroimaging performed at baseline and during follow-up if a recurrent stroke occurred in patients enrolled in the Warfarin-Aspirin Symptomatic Intracranial Disease (WASID) trial. We defined the likely mechanism of stroke (artery-to-artery embolism, perforator occlusion, hypoperfusion or mixed) according to the site of ICAS and based on the infarct patterns on neuroimaging. Collaterals were assessed using American Society of Interventional and Therapeutic Neuroradiology/Society of Interventional Radiology (ASITN/SIR) grades, and stenosis severity using the WASID trial's measurement technique. We evaluated the association of infarct patterns with angiographic features using χ(2) tests.

Results: The likely mechanisms of stroke based on the infarct patterns at baseline in the 136 patients included in the study were artery-to-artery embolism (n = 69; 50.7%), perforator occlusion (n = 34; 25%), hypoperfusion (n = 12; 8.8%) and mixed (n = 21; 15.5%). Perforator-occlusive infarcts were more frequent in the posterior circulation, and mixed patterns were more prevalent in the anterior circulation (both p < 0.01). Most of the mixed patterns in the anterior circulation combined small pial or scattered multiple cortical infarcts with infarcts in border-zone regions, especially the cortical ones. Isolated border-zone infarcts were not significantly associated with a poor grading for collaterals or the severity of stenosis. Among 47 patients with a recurrent infarct during follow-up, the infarct patterns suggested an artery-to-artery embolic mechanism in 29 (61.7%).

Conclusions: Artery-to-artery embolism is probably the most common mechanism of stroke in both the anterior and the posterior circulations in patients with ICAS. An extension of intracranial atherosclerosis at the site of stenosis into adjacent perforators also appears to be a common mechanism of stroke, particularly in the posterior circulation, whereas hypoperfusion as the sole mechanism is relatively uncommon. Further research is important to accurately establish the specific mechanisms of stroke in patients with ICAS, since preliminary data suggest that the underlying mechanism of stroke is an important determinant of prognosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Arteries / pathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Constriction, Pathologic
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / diagnosis
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / pathology*
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / pathology*