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Circulation. 2001 Jan 23;103(3):415-22.

Magnetic resonance imaging of atherosclerotic plaque with ultrasmall superparamagnetic particles of iron oxide in hyperlipidemic rabbits.

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Institutes of Diagnostic Radiology, University Hospital Z├╝rich, Switzerland.



Based on the observation that ultrasmall superparamagnetic particles of iron oxides (USPIOs) are phagocytosed by cells of the mononuclear phagocytic system, the purpose of this study was to evaluate their use as a marker of atherosclerosis-associated inflammatory changes in the vessel wall before luminal narrowing is present.


Experiments were conducted on 6 heritable hyperlipidemic and 3 New Zealand White rabbits. 3D MR angiography (MRA) of the thoracic aorta was performed on all rabbits by use of a conventional paramagnetic contrast agent that failed to reveal any abnormalities. One week later, all rabbits except 1 of the hyperlipidemic animals were injected with a USPIO contrast agent (Sinerem, Guerbet) at a dose of 1 mmol Fe/kg. 3D MRA data sets collected over the subsequent 5 days showed increasing signal in the aortic lumen. Whereas the aortic wall of the control rabbits remained smooth and bright, marked susceptibility effects became evident on day 4 within the aortic walls of hyperlipidemic rabbits. Ex vivo imaging of aortic specimens confirmed the in vivo results. Histopathology documented marked Fe uptake in macrophages embedded in atherosclerotic plaque of the hyperlipidemic rabbits. Electron microscopy showed multiple cytoplasmic Fe particles in macrophages. No such changes were seen in control rabbits or in the hyperlipidemic rabbit that had not received Sinerem.


USPIOs are phagocytosed by macrophages in atherosclerotic plaques of the aortic wall of hyperlipidemic rabbits in a quantity sufficient to cause susceptibility effects detectable by MRI.

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