Cerebral microbleeds: Beyond the macroscope

Int J Stroke. 2019 Jul;14(5):468-475. doi: 10.1177/1747493019830594. Epub 2019 Feb 12.


While being increasingly recognized in clinical routine, brain microbleeds remain a puzzling finding for physicians. These small dot-like lesions are thought to be old perivascular collections of hemosiderin deposits. They can be found in different neurological settings such as cerebrovascular or neurodegenerative diseases. While their microscopic size would suggest considering these lesions as anecdotal, they are now regarded as biomarkers of severity of an underlying cerebrovascular disease. Their natural history and the interactions with surrounding brain cells remain unknown. However, their presence may impact therapeutic decisions. Deciphering the biological mechanisms leading to, or following microbleeds would enable us to address a key question: do microbleeds arise and impact the surrounding parenchyma like a miniature version of intracerebral hemorrhages or do they represent a different kind of injury? We hereby discuss, based on both clinical and experimental literature, the gap between the definition of microbleeds coming from neuroimaging and the pathophysiological hypotheses raised from histopathological and experimental data. Our analysis supports the need for a convergent effort from clinicians and basic scientists to go beyond the current "macro" view and disclose the cellular and molecular insights of these cerebral hemorrhagic microlesions.

Keywords: Cerebral microbleed; cerebral amyloid angiopathy; experimental models; intracerebral hemorrhage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / complications
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / pathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Disorders / complications
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological