Magnetic Resonance Evaluation of the Cerebral Circulation in Obstructive Arterial Disease

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BackgroundThe aim of the current overview is to highlight the possibilities of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the assessment of patients with obstructive arterial disease. The anatomic and hemodynamic aspects of the extra- and intracranial cerebral circulation were analyzed and show the importance of combining both aspects in studying cerebral hemodynamic changes.ResultsThree levels of cerebral circulation are distinguished: blood flow to the brain (level 1); the distribution of blood flow in the brain (level 2), and finally perfusion of the brain (level 3). To investigate the anatomy of the arteries in the neck and the circle of Willis, contrast-enhanced, time-of-flight and phase contrast MR angiography (MRA) are available. To evaluate the hemodynamics at the 1st and 2nd level of the cerebral circulation two-dimensional phase contrast (volume flow and flow direction) MRA can be used. In addition, the distribution of blood via the circle of Willis can be visualized with dynamic MRA. At the 3rd level, measurements of regional brain perfusion can be obtained by injecting gadolinium, dynamic susceptibility contrast MRI, or noninvasively with arterial spin labeling (ASL) MRI. In addition, selective ASL MRI is able to evaluate the perfused territories of individual brain-feeding arteries.ConclusionThe currently available MR techniques allow evaluation of the cerebral circulation from the aortic arch upwards towards the microvasculature and brain tissue perfusion in a comprehensive 20-min protocol. The combined use of the described MR methods in patients with steno-occlusive disease will further clarify the pathophysiological relations between the vasculature, perfusion and brain function.

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