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Circulation. 2003 Nov 25;108(21):2636-41. Epub 2003 Oct 27.

Characterizing vulnerable plaque features with intravascular elastography.

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  • 1Thoraxcenter Erasmus MC Rotterdam, Kamer Ee 23.32, PO Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands. j.schaar@erasmusmc.nl



In vivo detection of vulnerable plaques is presently limited by a lack of diagnostic tools. Intravascular ultrasound elastography is a new technique based on intravascular ultrasound and has the potential to differentiate between different plaques phenotypes. However, the predictive value of intravascular elastography to detect vulnerable plaques had not been studied.


Postmortem coronary arteries were investigated with intravascular elastography and subsequently processed for histology. In histology, a vulnerable plaque was defined as a plaque consisting of a thin cap (<250 microm) with moderate to heavy macrophage infiltration and at least 40% of atheroma. In elastography, a vulnerable plaque was defined as a plaque with a high strain region at the surface with adjacent low strain regions. In 24 diseased coronary arteries, we studied 54 cross sections. In histology, 26 vulnerable plaques and 28 nonvulnerable plaques were found. Receiver operator characteristic analysis revealed a maximum predictive power for a strain value threshold of 1.26%. The area under the receiver operator characteristic curve was 0.85. The sensitivity was 88%, and the specificity was 89% to detect vulnerable plaques. Linear regression showed high correlation between the strain in caps and the amount of macrophages (P<0.006) and an inverse relation between the amount of smooth muscle cells and strain (P<0.0001). Plaques, which are declared vulnerable in elastography, have a thinner cap than nonvulnerable plaques (P<0.0001).


Intravascular elastography has a high sensitivity and specificity to detect vulnerable plaques in vitro.

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