Assessment of microvascular rarefaction in human brain disorders using physiological magnetic resonance imaging

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2022 May;42(5):718-737. doi: 10.1177/0271678X221076557. Epub 2022 Jan 26.


Cerebral microvascular rarefaction, the reduction in number of functional or structural small blood vessels in the brain, is thought to play an important role in the early stages of microvascular related brain disorders. A better understanding of its underlying pathophysiological mechanisms, and methods to measure microvascular density in the human brain are needed to develop biomarkers for early diagnosis and to identify targets for disease modifying treatments. Therefore, we provide an overview of the assumed main pathophysiological processes underlying cerebral microvascular rarefaction and the evidence for rarefaction in several microvascular related brain disorders. A number of advanced physiological MRI techniques can be used to measure the pathological alterations associated with microvascular rarefaction. Although more research is needed to explore and validate these MRI techniques in microvascular rarefaction in brain disorders, they provide a set of promising future tools to assess various features relevant for rarefaction, such as cerebral blood flow and volume, vessel density and radius and blood-brain barrier leakage.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; cerebral small vessel disease; magnetic resonance imaging; microvascular density; microvascular rarefaction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Diseases* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Microvascular Rarefaction*