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Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg. 2009 Jun;37(6):714-21. doi: 10.1016/j.ejvs.2008.11.018. Epub 2008 Dec 27.

Molecular pathology in vulnerable carotid plaques: correlation with [18]-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET).

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Department of Vascular Surgery, Rigshospitalet RK-3111, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen E, Denmark.



Atherosclerosis is recognised as an inflammatory disease, and new diagnostic tools are warranted to evaluate plaque inflammatory activity and risk of cardiovascular events. We investigated [18]-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) uptake in vulnerable carotid plaques visualised by positron emission tomography (PET). Uptake was correlated to quantitative gene expression of known markers of inflammation and plaque vulnerability.


Ten patients with recent transient ischaemic attack and carotid artery stenosis (>50%) underwent combined FDG-PET and computed tomography angiography (CTA) the day before carotid endarterectomy. Plaque mRNA expression of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin 18 (IL-18), the macrophage-specific marker CD68 and the two proteinases, Cathepsin K and matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9), were quantified using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction.


Consistent up-regulation of CD68 (3.8-fold+/-0.9; mean+/-standard error), Cathepsin K (2.1-fold+/-0.5), MMP-9 (122-fold+/-65) and IL-18 (3.4-fold+/-0.7) were found in the plaques, compared to reference-artery specimens. The FDG uptake by plaques was strongly correlated with CD68 gene expression (r=0.71, P=0.02). Any correlations with Cathepsin K, MMP-9 or IL-18 gene expression were weaker.


FDG-PET uptake in carotid plaques is correlated to gene expression of CD68 and other molecular markers of inflammation and vulnerability.

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