Cerebral cavernous malformations: Typical and atypical imaging characteristics

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Cavernous malformations (CMs) are benign vascular malformations that maybe seen anywhere in the central nervous system. They are dynamic lesions, growing or shrinking over time and only rarely remaining stable. Size varies from a few millimeters to a few centimeters. CMs can be sporadic or familial, and while most of them are congenital, de novo and acquired lesions may also be seen. Etiology is still unknown. A genetic molecular mechanism has been proposed since a cerebral cavernous malformation gene loss of function was found in both familial and sporadic lesions. Additionally, recent studies suggest that formation of CMs in humans may be associated with a distinctive bacterial gut composition (microbioma). Imaging is fairly typical but may vary according to age, location, and etiology. Follow-up is not well established because CMs patients have a highly unpredictable clinical course. Angiogenic and inflammatory mechanisms have been implicated in disease activity, as well as lesional hyperpermeability and iron deposition. Imaging and serum biomarkers of these mechanisms are under current investigation. Treatment options, including surgery or radiosurgery, are not well defined and are dependent upon multiple factors, including clinical presentation, lesion location, number of hemorrhagic events, and medical comorbidities. Our purpose is to review the imaging features of CMs based on their size, location, and etiology, as well as their differential diagnosis and best imaging approach. New insights in etiology will be briefly considered. Follow-up strategies, including serum and imaging biomarkers, and treatment options will also be discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)202 - 217
JournalJournal Of Neuroimaging
Issue number2
Early online date2022
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • biomarkers
  • cavernous malformation
  • microbiome
  • MRI


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