Vessel wall enhancement of intracranial aneurysms: fact or artifact?

Neurosurg Focus. 2019 Jul 1;47(1):E18. doi: 10.3171/2019.4.FOCUS19236.


Objective: For patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) and multiple intracranial aneurysms, it is often challenging to identify the ruptured aneurysm. Some investigators have asserted that vessel wall imaging (VWI) can be used to identify the ruptured aneurysm since wall enhancement after contrast agent injection is presumably related to inflammation in unstable and ruptured aneurysms. The aim of this study was to determine whether additional factors contribute to aneurysm wall enhancement by assessing imaging data in a series of patients.

Methods: Patients with symptoms of SAH who subsequently underwent VWI in the period between January 2017 and September 2018 were eligible for study inclusion. Three-dimensional turbo spin-echo sequences with motion-sensitized driven-equilibrium preparation pulses were acquired using a 3-T MRI scanner to visualize the aneurysm wall. Identification of the ruptured aneurysm was based on aneurysm characteristics and hemorrhage distributions on MRI. Complementary imaging data (CT, DSA, MRI) were used to assess potential underlying enhancement mechanisms. Additionally, aneurysm luminal diameter measurements on MRA were compared with those on contrast-enhanced VWI to assess the intraluminal contribution to aneurysm enhancement.

Results: Six patients with 14 aneurysms were included in this series. The mean aneurysm size was 5.8 mm (range 1.1-16.9 mm). A total of 10 aneurysms showed enhancement on VWI; 5 ruptured aneurysms showed enhancement, and 1 unruptured but symptomatic aneurysm showed enhancement on VWI and ruptured 1 day later. Four unruptured aneurysms showed enhancement. In 6 (60%) of the 10 enhanced aneurysms, intraluminal diameters appeared notably smaller (≥ 0.8 mm smaller) on contrast-enhanced VWI compared to their appearance on multiple overlapping thin slab acquisition time of flight (MOTSA-TOF) MRA and/or precontrast VWI, suggesting that enhancement was at least partially in the aneurysm lumen itself.

Conclusions: Several factors other than the hypothesized inflammatory response contribute to aneurysm wall enhancement. In 60% of the cases in this study, enhancement was at least partially caused by slow intraaneurysmal flow, leading to pseudo-enhancement of the aneurysm wall. Notwithstanding, there seems to be clinical value in differentiating ruptured from unruptured aneurysms using VWI, but the hypothesis that we image the inflammatory cell infiltration in the aneurysm wall is not yet confirmed.

Keywords: ACoA = anterior communicating artery; CSF = cerebrospinal fluid; FLAIR = fluid-attenuated inversion recovery; ICA = internal carotid artery; MCA = middle cerebral artery; MOTSA-TOF = multiple overlapping thin slab acquisition time of flight; PCoA = posterior communicating artery; SAH = subarachnoid hemorrhage; SWI = susceptibility-weighted imaging; VWI = vessel wall imaging; enhancement; intracranial aneurysms; vessel wall imaging.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aneurysm, Ruptured / diagnostic imaging
  • Artifacts*
  • Blood Vessels / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cerebral Angiography
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Aneurysm / diagnostic imaging*
  • Intracranial Aneurysm / surgery
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multimodal Imaging / methods*
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed