Importance of variants in cerebrovascular anatomy for potential retrograde embolization in cryptogenic stroke

Michael Markl*, Edouard Semaan, Le Roy Stromberg, James Carr, Shyam Prabhakaran, Jeremy Collins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objectives: To test the hypothesis that variants in cerebrovascular anatomy will affect the number of patients demonstrating a plausible retrograde embolization mechanism from plaques in the descending aorta (DAo). Methods: Thirty-five patients (aged 63 ± 17 years) with cryptogenic stroke underwent 4D flow MRI for the assessment of aortic 3D blood flow and MR angiography for the evaluation of circle of Willis, posterior circulation, and aortic arch architecture. In patients with proven DAo plaque, retrograde embolization was considered a potential mechanism if retrograde flow extended from the DAo to a supra-aortic vessel supplying the cerebral infarct territory. Results: Retrograde embolization with matching cerebral infarct territory was detected in six (17%) patients. Circle of Willis and aortic arch variant anatomy was found in 60% of patients, leading to reclassification of retrograde embolization risk as present in three (9%) additional patients, for a total 26% of cryptogenic stroke patients. Conclusion: 4D flow MRI demonstrated 26% concordance with infarct location on imaging with retrograde diastolic flow into the feeding vessels of the affected cerebral area, identifying a potential etiology for cryptogenic stroke. Our findings further demonstrate the importance of cerebrovascular anatomy when determining concordance of retrograde flow pathways with vascular stroke territory from DAo plaques. Key points: • Retrograde embolization from descending aortic plaques constitutes a plausible etiology in cryptogenic stroke. • Common variants of cerebrovascular anatomy are important in determining retrograde embolization mechanism. • Variant cerebrovascular anatomy can link retrograde flow pathways with vascular stroke territory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4145-4152
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Radiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • 4D flow MRI
  • Circle of Willis
  • Plaque
  • Retrograde flow
  • Stroke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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