Emboli in brain tissue after cardiopulmonary bypass were reported in the literature 30 years ago, but there is little objective evidence confirming the presence of emboli in the brain after cardiopulmonary bypass with more modern equipment and techniques. Recently, with alkaline phosphatase vascular staining, we found an acellular fatty material in brain microvasculature from autopsy material of patients who died shortly after cardiopulmonary bypass. These fatty intravascular collections range in diameter from 10 to 70 microns, a size that lodges in the smallest vessels of the microvasculature. They have been found in numbers sufficient to cause detectable neurologic dysfunction and are believed, but not proved, to be emboli. By sequentially injecting colored microspheres, we can determine when emboli occur during experimental cardiopulmonary bypass. In ongoing related studies, magnetic resonance imaging was performed before cardiac valve replacement in 39 patients for whom preoperative and postoperative neurologic and neuropsychologic testing was available. Preliminary results suggest that magnetic resonance imaging evidence of prior stroke is not a significant risk factor for cognitive or motor decrement after cardiopulmonary bypass.