Molecular Imaging of Atherothrombotic Diseases: Seeing Is Believing

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Abstract

Molecular imaging, with major advances in the development of both innovative targeted contrast agents/particles and radiotracers, as well as various imaging technologies, is a fascinating, rapidly growing field with many preclinical and clinical applications, particularly for personalized medicine. Thrombosis in either the venous or the arterial system, the latter typically caused by rupture of unstable atherosclerotic plaques, is a major determinant of mortality and morbidity in patients. However, imaging of the various thrombotic complications and the identification of plaques that are prone to rupture are at best indirect, mostly unreliable, or not available at all. The development of molecular imaging toward diagnosis and prevention of thrombotic disease holds promise for major advance in this clinically important field. Here, we review the medical need and clinical importance of direct molecular imaging of thrombi and unstable atherosclerotic plaques that are prone to rupture, thereby causing thrombotic complications such as myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke. We systematically compare the advantages/disadvantages of the various molecular imaging modalities, including X-ray computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, single-photon emission computed tomography, fluorescence imaging, and ultrasound. We further systematically discuss molecular targets specific for thrombi and those characterizing unstable, potentially thrombogenic atherosclerotic plaques. Finally, we provide examples for first theranostic approaches in thrombosis, combining diagnosis, targeted therapy, and monitoring of therapeutic success or failure. Overall, molecular imaging is a rapidly advancing field that holds promise of major benefits to many patients with atherothrombotic diseases.

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