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Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2003 Aug 1;23(8):1333-42. Epub 2003 Jun 12.

Intravascular modalities for detection of vulnerable plaque: current status.

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  • 1Cardiology Division, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass 02114, USA.


Progress in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is dependent on a greater understanding of the mechanisms of coronary plaque progression. Autopsy studies have characterized a subgroup of high-risk, or vulnerable, plaques that result in acute coronary syndromes or sudden cardiac death. These angiographically modest plaques share certain pathologic characteristics: a thin, fibrous cap, lipid-rich core, and macrophage activity. Diagnostic techniques for vulnerable-plaque detection, including serologic markers and noninvasive and invasive techniques, are needed. Recent advances in intravascular imaging have significantly improved the ability to detect high-risk, or vulnerable, plaque in vivo by using various features of plaque vulnerability as methods of identification. The characteristic anatomy of a thin, fibrous cap overlying a lipid pool has promoted high-resolution imaging, such as intravascular ultrasound, optical coherence tomography, and intracoronary magnetic resonance. The lipid-rich core is identifiable by angioscopically detected color changes on the plaque surface or by its unique absorption of energy, or "Raman shift," of its cholesterol core, driving coronary spectroscopy. Finally, temperature heterogeneity arising at foci of plaque inflammation has prompted the development of intracoronary thermography. In this review, we will discuss these techniques, their relative advantages and limitations, and their potential clinical application.

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