, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 717-728
Date: 07 May 2011

PET imaging of aortic atherosclerosis: Is combined imaging of plaque anatomy and function an amaranthine quest or conceivable reality?

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Abstract

Traditionally, blood vessels have been studied using contrast luminography to determine the site, extent and severity of luminal compromise by atherosclerotic deposits. Similar anatomical data can now be acquired non-invasively using ultrasound, computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging. Plaque stability is an important determinant of subsequent vascular events and currently functional data on the stability of plaque is less well provided by these methods. The search for non-invasive techniques to image combined plaque anatomy and function has been pursued with visionary anticipation. This expectation may soon be realised as imaging with radionuclide-labelled atheroma-targeted contrast agents has demonstrated that plaque functional characteristics can now be shown. Increasingly positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) imaging with 18F fluorodexoyglucose (FDG) and other radionuclides is being used to determine culprit plaques in complex clinically scenarios. Clinically, this information may prove extremely valuable in the assessment of stable and unstable patients and its use in prime time medical practice is eagerly awaited. We will discuss the current clinical applications of functional atheroma imaging in the aorta and highlight the promising preclinical data on novel image biomarkers of plaque instability. If clinical science is able to successfully translate these advances in vascular imaging from the bench to the bedside, a new paradigm will be achieved in cardiovascular diagnostics.

Gary Small is supported by the University of Ottawa Cardiology Research Endowment Fund. Terrence Ruddy is supported by the Vered Chair in Cardiology.