brain biopsy

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Brain Biopsy



A brain biopsy is the removal of a small piece of brain tissue for the diagnosis of abnormalities of the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease, tumors, infection, or inflammation.


By examining the tissue sample under a microscope, the biopsy sample provides doctors with the information necessary to guide diagnosis and treatment.


Imaging of the brain is performed to determine the precise positioning of the needle to enter the brain.


When an abnormality of the brain is suspected, Stereotactic (probing in three dimensions) brain needle biopsy is performed and guided precisely by a computer system to avoid serious complications. A small hole is drilled into the skull, and a needle is inserted into the brain tissue guided by computer-assisted imaging techniques (CT or MRI scans). Historically, the patient's head was held in a rigid frame to direct the probe into the brain; however since the early nineties, it has been possible to perform these biopsies without the frame. Since the frame was attached to the skull with screws, this advancement is less invasive and better tolerated by the patient. The doctor (pathologist) prepares the sample for analysis and studies it further under a microscope.


A CT or MRI brain scan is done to find the position where the biopsy will be performed. Prior to the biopsy, the patient is placed under general anesthesia.


The patient is monitored in the recovery room for several hours and is usually required to spend a few days in the hospital since general anesthesia is required.


The procedure is invasive and includes risks associated with anesthesia and surgery. Brain injury may occur due to removal of brain tissue. The resulting scar, left on the brain has the potential to trigger seizures.

Normal results

After examining the brain tissue directly, no abnormalities are detected.

Abnormal results

Various brain abnormalities can be diagnosed by microscopic analysis of the tissue sample. The pathologist (a physician trained in how disease affects the body's tissues) looks for abnormal growth, changes in cell membranes, and/or abnormal collections of cells. In Alzheimer's disease, the cortex of the brain contains abnormal collections of plaques. If infection is suspected, the infectious organism can be cultured from the tissue and identified. Classification of tumors is also possible after biopsy.

Key terms

Alzheimer's disease — A progressive, neurodegenerative disease characterized by loss of function and death of nerve cells in several areas of the brain, leading to loss of mental functions such as memory and learning.
Computed axial tomography (CT) — Computed axial tomography (CT) is a x-ray technique that has the ability to image soft tissue, bone, and blood vessels.
Cortex — The thin convoluted surface of the brain comprised primarilyof cell bodies of neurons.
MRI — Magnetic resonance imaging is an imaging technique that uses radiowaves, magnetic fields, and computer analysis to visualize body tissue and structures.
Stereotactic brain needle biopsy — In this procedure a computer uses information from a CT or MRI to create a three-dimensional map of the operation site to better guide the needle to perform the biopsy.



Alzheimer's Association. 919 North Michigan Ave., Suite 1100 Chicago, IL 60611-1676.(800) 272-3900
American Brain Tumor Association. 2720 River Road, Suite 146, Des Plaines, IL 60018-4110. (800) 886-2282. 〈〉.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH Neurological Institute. P.O. Box 5801 Bethesda, MD 20824. (800) 352-9424. 〈http://www.ninds.nih.-gov/index.htm〉.

brain biopsy

A procedure in which a small piece of brain tissue is obtained transcranially to establish a diagnosis.
Suspected Alzheimer's disease or other neurodegenerative condition, tumours, infection, inflammation, and other brain disorders.
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