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J Am Coll Cardiol. 2008 Aug 5;52(6):483-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2008.03.063.

Noninvasive detection of macrophage-rich atherosclerotic plaque in hyperlipidemic rabbits using "positive contrast" magnetic resonance imaging.

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Department of Cardiology, University of Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.



This study was designed to identify macrophage-rich atherosclerotic plaque noninvasively by imaging the tissue uptake of long-circulating superparamagnetic nanoparticles with a positive contrast off-resonance imaging sequence (inversion recovery with ON-resonant water suppression [IRON]).


The sudden rupture of macrophage-rich atherosclerotic plaques can trigger the formation of an occlusive thrombus in coronary vessels, resulting in acute myocardial infarction. Therefore, a noninvasive technique that can identify macrophage-rich plaques and thereby assist with risk stratification of patients with atherosclerosis would be of great potential clinical utility.


Experiments were conducted on a clinical 3-T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner in 7 heritable hyperlipidemic and 4 control rabbits. Monocrystalline iron-oxide nanoparticles (MION)-47 were administrated intravenously (2 doses of 250 mumol Fe/kg), and animals underwent serial IRON-MRI before injection of the nanoparticles and serially after 1, 3, and 6 days.


After administration of MION-47, a striking signal enhancement was found in areas of plaque only in hyperlipidemic rabbits. The magnitude of enhancement on magnetic resonance images had a high correlation with the number of macrophages determined by histology (p < 0.001) and allowed for the detection of macrophage-rich plaque with high accuracy (area under the curve: 0.92, SE: 0.04, 95% confidence interval: 0.84 to 0.96, p < 0.001). No significant signal enhancement was measured in remote areas without plaque by histology and in control rabbits without atherosclerosis.


Using IRON-MRI in conjunction with superparamagnetic nanoparticles is a promising approach for the noninvasive evaluation of macrophage-rich, vulnerable plaques.

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