Detection of atherosclerosis using a novel positron-sensitive probe and 18-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG)

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Inflammation contributes to atherosclerotic plaque remodeling, enlargement and rupture. Non-invasive imaging of coronary artery inflammation could help target therapy to ‘vulnerable’ atheromata, but is limited because of small tissue mass and arterial motion. Local radiopharmaceutical imaging may overcome some of these limitations. We used a positron-sensitive fiberoptic probe, which can distinguish positron emissions from annihilation photons, to identify diseased from healthy endothelium in an atherosclerotic model. New Zealand White rabbits underwent Fogarty-catheter injury of an iliac artery and then were fed a high-fat diet for 3 weeks. Fasted animals received 90-180 MBq of 18-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) 2-4 h before sacrifice and harvest of injured and uninjured iliacs. Arteries were incised longitudinally and the probe was placed in contact with the arterial intima. Multiple measurements were obtained along 1 cm artery segments in 60 s intervals, and corrected for 18F decay and background. Measurements were recorded over 93 injured and normal artery segments in 11 animals. Mean probe Z-scores were 4.8-fold higher (CI 3.4-6.3) over injury atherosclerosis compared with uninjured normal iliac artery segments (P<0.001). Gamma counting confirmed that injured artery segments accumulated more FDG per gram than did normal segments (0.203%·kg injected dose per gram of tissue versus 0.042, P<0.001). Non-arterial tissue also accumulated FDG avidly, particularly reticuloendothelial tissues and blood. Delayed sacrifice, 4 h compared with 2 h after animal FDG injection, further reduced blood background counts and improved the signal-to-noise ratio. Histopathology confirmed that injured iliac artery had significantly higher intimal and medial cross-sectional area compared with uninjured artery. Injured artery also had significantly higher macrophage and smooth muscle cell density. Positron-sensitive probe counts correlated with the intima to media ratio (r = 0.63, P = 0.03). Our positron-sensitive probe distinguishes atherosclerotic from healthy artery in a blood-free field. Intravascular study of plaque biology may be feasible using FDG and a positron-sensitive probe.

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