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Ethan A. Winkler, Harjus Birk, Jan-Karl Burkhardt, Xiaolin Chen, John K. Yue, Diana Guo, W. Caleb Rutledge, George F. Lasker, Carlene Partow, Tarik Tihan, Edward F. Chang, Hua Su, Helen Kim, Brian P. Walcott and Michael T. Lawton


Brain arteriovenous malformations (bAVMs) are rupture-prone tangles of blood vessels with direct shunting of blood flow between arterial and venous circulations. The molecular and/or cellular mechanisms contributing to bAVM pathogenesis and/or destabilization in sporadic lesions have remained elusive. Initial insights into AVM formation have been gained through models of genetic AVM syndromes. And while many studies have focused on endothelial cells, the contributions of other vascular cell types have yet to be systematically studied. Pericytes are multifunctional mural cells that regulate brain angiogenesis, blood-brain barrier integrity, and vascular stability. Here, the authors analyze the abundance of brain pericytes and their association with vascular changes in sporadic human AVMs.


Tissues from bAVMs and from temporal lobe specimens from patients with medically intractable epilepsy (nonvascular lesion controls [NVLCs]) were resected. Immunofluorescent staining with confocal microscopy was performed to quantify pericytes (platelet-derived growth factor receptor–beta [PDGFRβ] and aminopeptidase N [CD13]) and extravascular hemoglobin. Iron-positive hemosiderin deposits were quantified with Prussian blue staining. Syngo iFlow post–image processing was used to measure nidal blood flow on preintervention angiograms.


Quantitative immunofluorescent analysis demonstrated a 68% reduction in the vascular pericyte number in bAVMs compared with the number in NVLCs (p < 0.01). Additional analysis demonstrated 52% and 50% reductions in the vascular surface area covered by CD13- and PDGFRβ-positive pericyte cell processes, respectively, in bAVMs (p < 0.01). Reductions in pericyte coverage were statistically significantly greater in bAVMs with prior rupture (p < 0.05). Unruptured bAVMs had increased microhemorrhage, as evidenced by a 15.5-fold increase in extravascular hemoglobin compared with levels in NVLCs (p < 0.01). Within unruptured bAVM specimens, extravascular hemoglobin correlated negatively with pericyte coverage (CD13: r = −0.93, p < 0.01; PDGFRβ: r = −0.87, p < 0.01). A similar negative correlation was observed with pericyte coverage and Prussian blue–positive hemosiderin deposits (CD13: r = −0.90, p < 0.01; PDGFRβ: r = −0.86, p < 0.01). Pericyte coverage positively correlated with the mean transit time of blood flow or the time that circulating blood spends within the bAVM nidus (CD13: r = 0.60, p < 0.05; PDGFRβ: r = 0.63, p < 0.05). A greater reduction in pericyte coverage is therefore associated with a reduced mean transit time or faster rate of blood flow through the bAVM nidus. No correlations were observed with time to peak flow within feeding arteries or draining veins.


Brain pericyte number and coverage are reduced in sporadic bAVMs and are lowest in cases with prior rupture. In unruptured bAVMs, pericyte reductions correlate with the severity of microhemorrhage. A loss of pericytes also correlates with a faster rate of blood flow through the bAVM nidus. This suggests that pericytes are associated with and may contribute to vascular fragility and hemodynamic changes in bAVMs. Future studies in animal models are needed to better characterize the role of pericytes in AVM pathogenesis.

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Adib A. Abla, William Caleb Rutledge, Zachary A. Seymour, Diana Guo, Helen Kim, Nalin Gupta, Penny K. Sneed, Igor J. Barani, David Larson, Michael W. McDermott and Michael T. Lawton


The surgical treatment of many large arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) is associated with substantial risks, and many are considered inoperable. Furthermore, AVMs larger than 3 cm in diameter are not usually treated with conventional single-session radiosurgery encompassing the entire AVM volume. Volume-staged stereotactic radiosurgery (VS-SRS) is an option for large AVMs, but it has mixed results. The authors report on a series of patients with high-grade AVMs who underwent multiple VS-SRS sessions with resultant downgrading of the AVMs, followed by resection.


A cohort of patients was retrieved from a single-institution AVM patient registry consisting of prospectively collected data. VS-SRS was performed as a planned intentional treatment. Surgery was considered as salvage therapy in select patients.


Sixteen AVMs underwent VS-SRS followed by surgery. Four AVMs presented with rupture. The mean patient age was 25.3 years (range 13–54 years). The average initial Spetzler-Martin grade before any treatment was 4, while the average supplemented Spetzler-Martin grade (Spetzler-Martin plus Lawton-Young) was 7.1. The average AVM size in maximum dimension was 5.9 cm (range 3.3–10 cm). All AVMs were supratentorial in location and all except one were in eloquent areas of the brain, with 7 involving primary motor cortex. The mean number of VS-SRS sessions was 2.7 (range 2–5 sessions). The mean interval between first VS-SRS session and resection was 5.7 years. There were 4 hemorrhages that occurred after VS-SRS. The average Spetzler-Martin grade was reduced to 2.5 (downgrade, −1.5) and the average supplemented Spetzler-Martin grade was reduced to 5.6 (downgrade, −1.5). The maximum AVM size was reduced to an average of 3.0 cm (downsize = −2.9 cm). The mean modified Rankin Scale (mRS) scores were 1.2, 2.3, and 2.2 before VS-SRS, before surgery, and at last follow-up, respectively (mean follow-up, 6.9 years). Fifteen AVMs were cured after surgery. Ten patients had good outcomes at last follow-up (7 with mRS Score 0 or 1, and 3 with mRS Score 2). There were 2 deaths (both mRS Score 1 before treatment) and 4 patients with mRS Score 3 outcome (from mRS Scores 0, 1, and 2 [n = 2]).


Volume-staged SRS can downgrade AVMs, transforming high-grade AVMs (initially considered inoperable) into operable AVMs with acceptable surgical risks. This treatment paradigm offers an alternative to conservative observation for young patients with unruptured AVMs and long life expectancy, where the risk of hemorrhage is substantial. Difficult AVMs were cured in 15 patients. Surgical morbidity associated with downgraded AVMs is reduced to that of postradiosurgical/preoperative supplemented Spetzler-Martin grades, not their initial AVM grades.