Characterization of the Atherosclerotic Carotid Bifurcation Using MRI, Finite Element Modeling, and Histology

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Atherogenesis is known to be associated with the stresses that act on or within the arterial wall. Still, the uneven distribution of atherosclerotic lesions and the impact of vessel remodeling on disease progression are poorly understood. A methodology is proposed to study the correlations between fluid dynamic parameters and histological markers of atherosclerosis. Trends suggested by preliminary data from four patients with advanced carotid bifurcation arterial disease are examined and compared to hypotheses in the literature. Four patients were scanned using MRI and ultrasound, and subsequently underwent carotid endarterectomy. For each patient, a geometric model and a numerical mesh were constructed from MR data, and velocity boundary conditions established. Computations yield values for average wall shear stress (WSS), maximum wall shear stress temporal gradient (WSSTG), and Oscillatory Shear Index (OSI). Following surgery, the excised plaques were sectioned, stained for smooth muscle cells (SMC), macrophages (Mφ ), lipid (LIP), and collagen (COL), and analyzed quantitatively. Correlations attempted between the various fluid dynamic variables and the biological markers were interesting but inconclusive. Tendencies of WSSTG and WSS to correlate negatively with Mφ and LIP, and positively with COL and SMC, as well as tendencies of OSI to correlate positively with Mφ and LIP and negatively with COL and SMC, were observed. These trends agree with hypotheses in the literature, which are based on ex vivo and in vitro experimental studies.

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