Current imaging modalities to visualize vulnerability within the atherosclerotic carotid plaque

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Abstract

Background:

There is increasing evidence that plaque vulnerability, rather than the degree of stenosis, is important in predicting the occurrence of subsequent cerebral ischemic events in patients with carotid artery stenosis. The many imaging modalities currently available have different properties with regard to the visualization of the extent of vulnerability in carotid plaque formation.

Methods:

Original published studies were identified using the MEDLINE database (January 1966 to March 2008). Manual cross-referencing was also performed.

Results:

There is no single imaging modality that can produce definitive information about the state of vulnerability of an atherosclerotic plaque. Each has its own specific drawbacks, which may be the use of ionizing radiation or nephrotoxic contrast agents, an invasive character, low patient tolerability, or simply the paucity of information obtained on plaque vulnerability. Functional molecular imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET), single photon emission-computed tomography (SPECT) and near infra-red spectroscopy (NIRS) do seem able accurately to visualize and even quantify features of plaque vulnerability and its pathophysiologic processes. Promising new techniques like near infra-red fluorescence imaging are being developed and may be beneficial in this field.

Conclusion:

There is a promising role for functional molecular imaging modalities like PET, SPECT, or NIRS related to improvement of selection criteria for carotid intervention, especially when combined with CT or MRI to add further anatomical details to molecular information. Further information will be needed to define whether and where this functional molecular imaging will fit into a clinical strategy.

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