The anatomy of the arterial system supplying blood to the brain can influence the development of arterial disease such as aneurysms, dolichoectasia and atherosclerosis. As the arteries supplying blood to the brain develop during embryogenesis, variation in their anatomy may occur and this variation may influence the development of arterial disease. Angiogenesis, which occurs mainly by sprouting of parent arteries, is the first stage at which variations can occur. At day 24 of embryological life, the internal carotid artery is the first artery to form and it provides all the blood required by the primitive brain. As the occipital region, brain stem and cerebellum enlarge; the internal carotid supply becomes insufficient, triggering the development of the posterior circulation. At this stage, the posterior circulation consists of a primitive mesh of arterial networks that originate from projection of penetrators from the distal carotid artery and more proximally from carotid-vertebrobasilar anastomoses. These anastomoses regress when the basilar artery and the vertebral arteries become independent from the internal carotid artery, but their persistence is not uncommon in adults (e.g., persistent trigeminal artery). Other common remnants of embryological development include fenestration or duplication (most commonly of the basilar artery), hypoplasia (typically of the posterior communicating artery) or agenesis (typically of the anterior communicating artery). Learning more about the hemodynamic consequence that these variants may have on the brain territories they supply may help understand better the underlying physiopathology of cerebral arterial remodeling and stroke in patients with these variants.
Keywords: Arterial variants; Cerebral arteries; Circle of willis; Embryology; Remodeling; Stroke.