Vessel wall MR imaging of central nervous system vasculitis: a systematic review

Neuroradiology. 2022 Jan;64(1):43-58. doi: 10.1007/s00234-021-02724-9. Epub 2021 May 3.


Purpose: Beyond vessel wall enhancement, little is understood about vessel wall MR imaging (VW-MRI) features of vasculitis affecting the central nervous system (CNS). We reviewed vessel wall MR imaging patterns of inflammatory versus infectious vasculitis and also compared imaging patterns for intracranial versus extracranial arteries of the head and neck.

Methods: Studies reporting vasculitis of the CNS/head and neck and included MR imaging descriptions of vessel wall features were identified by searching PubMed, Scopus, Cochrane, Web of Science, and EMBASE up to June 10, 2020. From 6065 publications, 115 met the inclusion criteria. Data on study characteristics, vasculitis type, MR details, and VW-MRI descriptions were extracted.

Results: Studies used VW-MRI for inflammatory (64%), infectious (17%), or both inflammatory and infectious vasculitides (19%). Vasculitis affecting intracranial versus extracranial arteries were reported in 58% and 39% of studies, respectively. Commonly reported VW-MRI features were vessel wall enhancement (89%), thickening (72%), edema (10%), and perivascular enhancement (16%). Inflammatory vasculitides affecting the intracranial arteries were less frequently reported to have vessel wall thickening (p = 0.006) and perivascular enhancement (p = 0.001) than extracranial arteries. Varicella zoster/herpes simplex vasculitis (VZV/HSV, 45%) and primary angiitis of the CNS (PACNS, 22%) were the most commonly reported CNS infectious and inflammatory vasculitides, respectively. Patients with VZV/HSV vasculitis more frequently showed decreased or resolution of vessel wall enhancement after therapy compared to PACNS (89% versus 59%).

Conclusions: To establish imaging biomarkers of vessel wall inflammation in the CNS, VW-MRI features of vasculitis accounting for disease mechanism and anatomy should be better understood.

Keywords: Biomarker; Central nervous system; Magnetic resonance imaging; Vasculitis; Vessel wall MR imaging.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Vasculitis, Central Nervous System* / diagnostic imaging