Cerebral microbleeds (MBs) are a common finding in patients with cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD) and Alzheimer disease as well as in healthy elderly people, but their pathophysiology remains unclear. To investigate a possible role of veins in the development of MBs, we performed an exploratory study, assessing in vivo presence of MBs with a direct connection to a vein.
7-Tesla (7T) MRI was conducted and MBs were counted on quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM). A submillimeter resolution QSM-based venogram allowed identification of MBs with a direct spatial connection to a vein.
A total of 51 people (mean age [SD] 70.5 [8.6] years, 37% female) participated in the study: 20 had CSVD (cerebral amyloid angiopathy [CAA] with strictly lobar MBs [n = 8], hypertensive arteriopathy [HA] with strictly deep MBs [n = 5], or mixed lobar and deep MBs [n = 7], 72.4 [6.1] years, 30% female) and 31 were healthy controls (69.4 [9.9] years, 42% female). In our cohort, we counted a total of 96 MBs with a venous connection, representing 14% of all detected MBs on 7T QSM. Most venous MBs (86%, n = 83) were observed in lobar locations and all of these were cortical. Patients with CAA showed the highest ratio of venous to total MBs (19%) (HA = 9%, mixed = 18%, controls = 5%).
Our findings establish a link between cerebral MBs and the venous vasculature, pointing towards a possible contribution of veins to CSVD in general and to CAA in particular. Pathologic studies are needed to confirm our observations.