Anatomical relationships of the pia mater to cerebral blood vessels in man

J Neurosurg. 1986 Sep;65(3):316-25. doi: 10.3171/jns.1986.65.3.0316.


Using scanning and transmission electron microscopy and light microscopy, the authors studied the human pia mater and its relationship to the entry of blood vessels into the normal cerebral cortex. The purpose of this investigation was to examine the long-established concept that the subarachnoid space communicates directly with the perivascular spaces of the cerebral cortex. Brains obtained post mortem from subjects with recent subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) and purulent leptomeningitis were studied by light microscopy to determine the permeability of the pia mater to red blood cells and inflammatory cells. Scanning electron microscopy showed that the normal pia mater is a flat sheet of cells that is reflected from the surface of the brain to form the outer coating of the meningeal vessels in the subarachnoid space. Transmission electron microscopy confirmed that the cells of the pia mater are joined by junctional complexes and form a continuous sheet that separates the subarachnoid space on one side from the subpial and perivascular spaces on the other. Thus, neither the pia mater nor the subarachnoid space extends into the brain beside blood vessels as they enter the cerebral cortex. The perivascular spaces were, in fact, found to be confluent with the subpial space and not with the subarachnoid space. In cases of recent SAH, red blood cells did not enter the perivascular spaces from the subarachnoid space; neither did India ink injected post mortem into the subarachnoid space pass into the perivascular spaces. The results of these crude tracer studies suggest that the pia mater is an effective barrier to the passage of particulate matter. Histological examination of brains of patients who had died with purulent leptomeningitis showed that inflammatory cells were present in the cortical perivascular spaces and in the contiguous subpial spaces. The presence of a large number of inflammatory cells in the subarachnoid space suggests that inflammatory cells readily penetrate the pia mater that separates the perivascular spaces from the subarachnoid space. The permeability of the pia mater to small molecular weight substances is briefly discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / ultrastructure
  • Humans
  • Meningitis / pathology
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Middle Aged
  • Pia Mater / blood supply
  • Pia Mater / ultrastructure*
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage / pathology