A pathologic study was undertaken of seven encephalic arteriovenous malformations, including five resected from one to seven days after balloon embolization, one resected 10 days after embolization with polyvinyl alcohol foam (PVA), and a large mesencephalic AVM in a patient who died eight weeks after a series of embolization procedures with PVA and silicone spheres. AVM's resected 6-7 days following balloon embolization showed focal mural and adventitial inflammatory infiltrates and parenchymal (i.e. non-vascular) necrosis of a large portion of one AVM. The AVM examined 7 days post-balloon embolization showed an intraluminal thrombus containing refractile particles surrounded by foreign body giant cells (FBGC's). The AVM removed 10 days after PVA embolotherapy showed mural and perivascular necrosis with infiltration by polymorphonuclear leukocytes. The single autopsy case showed FBGC's surrounding residual PVA, refractile particles deep within vascular walls, and marked mural thickening of AVM channel walls, changes that may represent a response to previous angionecrosis and inflammation at the time of embolization. These findings, the pathogenesis of which is discussed in detail, may help to explain some of the rare complications of iatrogenic embolotherapy with these materials, as well as providing evidence for the basis of their efficacy.