Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Vulnerable Atherosclerotic Plaques: Current Imaging Strategies and Molecular Imaging Probes

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The vulnerability or destabilization of atherosclerotic plaques has been directly linked to plaque composition. Imaging modalities, such as magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, that allow for evaluation of plaque composition at a cellular and molecular level, could further improve the detection of vulnerable plaque and may allow for monitoring the efficacy of antiatherosclerotic therapies. In this review we focus on MR imaging strategies for the detection and evaluation of atherosclerotic plaques and their composition. We highlight recent advancements in the development of MR pulse sequences, computer image analysis, and the use of commercially available MR contrast agents, such as gadopentic acid (Gd-DTPA), for plaque characterization. We also discuss molecular imaging strategies that are currently being used to design specific imaging probes targeted to biochemical and cellular markers of atherosclerotic plaque vulnerability.

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