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Juhana Frösen, Juan Cebral, Anne M. Robertson and Tomohiro Aoki


Unruptured intracranial aneurysms (UIAs) are relatively common lesions that may cause devastating intracranial hemorrhage, thus producing considerable suffering and anxiety in those affected by the disease or an increased likelihood of developing it. Advances in the knowledge of the pathobiology behind intracranial aneurysm (IA) formation, progression, and rupture have led to preclinical testing of drug therapies that would prevent IA formation or progression. In parallel, novel biologically based diagnostic tools to estimate rupture risk are approaching clinical use. Arterial wall remodeling, triggered by flow and intramural stresses and mediated by inflammation, is relevant to both.


This review discusses the basis of flow-driven vessel remodeling and translates that knowledge to the observations made on the mechanisms of IA initiation and progression on studies using animal models of induced IA formation, study of human IA tissue samples, and study of patient-derived computational fluid dynamics models.


Blood flow conditions leading to high wall shear stress (WSS) activate proinflammatory signaling in endothelial cells that recruits macrophages to the site exposed to high WSS, especially through macrophage chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP1). This macrophage infiltration leads to protease expression, which disrupts the internal elastic lamina and collagen matrix, leading to focal outward bulging of the wall and IA initiation. For the IA to grow, collagen remodeling and smooth muscle cell (SMC) proliferation are essential, because the fact that collagen does not distend much prevents the passive dilation of a focal weakness to a sizable IA. Chronic macrophage infiltration of the IA wall promotes this SMC-mediated growth and is a potential target for drug therapy. Once the IA wall grows, it is subjected to changes in wall tension and flow conditions as a result of the change in geometry and has to remodel accordingly to avoid rupture. Flow affects this remodeling process.


Flow triggers an inflammatory reaction that predisposes the arterial wall to IA initiation and growth and affects the associated remodeling of the UIA wall. This chronic inflammation is a putative target for drug therapy that would stabilize UIAs or prevent UIA formation. Moreover, once this coupling between IA wall remodeling and flow is understood, data from patient-specific flow models can be gathered as part of the diagnostic workup and utilized to improve risk assessment for UIA initiation, progression, and eventual rupture.