Molecular imaging of atherosclerosis in translational medicine
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Functional characterization of atherosclerosis is a promising application of molecular imaging. Radionuclide-based techniques for molecular imaging in the large arteries (e.g. aorta and carotids), along with ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have been studied both experimentally and in clinical studies. Technical factors including cardiac and respiratory motion, low spatial resolution and partial volume effects mean that noninvasive molecular imaging of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries is not ready for prime time. Positron emission tomography imaging with fluorodeoxyglucose can measure vascular inflammation in the large arteries with high reproducibility, and signal change in response to anti-inflammatory therapy has been described. MRI has proven of value for quantifying carotid artery inflammation when iron oxide nanoparticles are used as a contrast agent. Macrophage accumulation of the iron particles allows regression of inflammation to be measured with drug therapy. Similarly, contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging is also being evaluated for functional characterization of atherosclerotic plaques. For all of these techniques, however, large-scale clinical trials are mandatory to define the prognostic importance of the imaging signals in terms of risk of future vascular events.
KeywordsAtherosclerosis Molecular imaging FDG PET MRI Ultrasound imaging
Work described in this manuscript was part supported by Cambridge NIHR Biomedical Research Funding.
Conflicts of interest
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