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Curr Opin Neurol. 2005 Apr;18(2):179-88.

Cerebral small vessel diseases: cerebral microangiopathies.

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Department of Neurology, University Hospital Münster, Münster, Germany.



Small vessel diseases of the brain are still clinically underrecognized whereas their burden is increasing steeply. The most frequent is acquired degenerative small vessel disease. Many hereditary or idiopathic small vessel diseases have also been identified, of which cerebral autosomal-dominant arteriopathy with stroke and ischaemic leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL) is the most prominent. In this review, we will highlight current evidence on pathophysiology and genetics, new imaging tools, and treatment options.


Recent imaging studies have stressed the disruption of white matter connections in the pathogenesis of cognitive impairment in acquired small vessel disease. Clinical trials suggest a therapeutic benefit of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. CADASIL is caused by mutations in the Notch3 gene. Current basic research has identified Notch genes to be important for endothelial and smooth muscle cells to form arteries and veins. Diagnosis can now be made reliably by magnetic resonance brain imaging, skin biopsy, or genetic testing. The so-called retinocerebral vasculopathies share the involvement of both retinal, cerebral and cochlear arterioles (e.g. Susac's syndrome). Cerebral amyloid angiopathy, occurring either sporadically or as a cause of various gene mutations, predisposes to lobar haemorrhages caused by rupture of affected small cortical vessels. Other rare cerebral microangiopathies, such as mitochondrial cytopathies, Fabry's disease and toxemic vasculopathy, offer established or new therapeutic options.


Cerebral small vessel diseases are highly variable in their aetiopathogenesis and clinical course. Current pathophysiological insights will help develop better treatment modalities; new imaging tools will provide surrogate markers for monitoring disease progression and treatment effects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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