Purpose of review
Imaging the penumbra is essential, not only to identify patients who might benefit from thrombolysis, but also to further understanding of the ischaemic process, thereby potentially revealing new opportunities for therapeutic intervention. Here we review recent imaging studies of the acute stroke process.
Perfusion-computed tomography and computed tomography angiography enable assessment of the haemodynamic status and site of occlusion, leading to their promising use in guiding thrombolysis. The magnetic resonance concept of the diffusion-perfusion ‘mismatch’ being representative of penumbra appears to be an oversimplification. The mapping of simple variables such as time-to-peak might not directly reveal true penumbral perfusion levels. Also, lesions seen with diffusion-weighted imaging may be reversible as a result of early reperfusion. This reversal with subsequent normalization may represent selective neuronal damage. Late secondary injury, as indicated by the reappearance of the diffusion-weighted imaging lesion, has recently been documented; the mechanisms are unknown but form potential targets for future therapies. Despite these caveats, diffusion-weighted imaging-perfusion-weighted imaging remains the most useful approach to map the pathophysiology of stroke in the clinical setting. Acute/subacute flumazenil positron emission tomography studies are being used as markers of neuronal integrity to help shed further light on infarction thresholds, and potentially document selective neuronal loss. 18F-labelled fluoromisonidazole positron emission tomography imaging of brain hypoxia documents the temporal and spatial progression of the penumbra.
The goal of understanding the complex process that is acute ischaemia in stroke, and subsequently the development of therapeutic strategies, continues to be advanced by imaging the penumbra in novel ways.