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J Intern Med. 2011 Aug;270(2):99-109. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2011.02392.x. Epub 2011 May 18.

Vascular imaging with positron emission tomography.

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Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.


Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease that causes most myocardial infarctions, strokes and acute coronary syndromes. Despite the identification of multiple risk factors and widespread use of drug therapies, it still remains a global health concern with associated costs. Although angiography is established as the gold standard means of detecting coronary artery stenosis, it does not image the vessel wall itself, reporting only on its consequences such as luminal narrowing and obstruction. MRI and computed tomography provide more information about the plaque structure, but recently positron emission tomography (PET) imaging using [(18) F]-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) has been advocated as a means of measuring arterial inflammation. This results from the ability of FDG-PET to highlight areas of high glucose metabolism, a feature of macrophages within atherosclerosis, particularly in high-risk plaques. It is suggested that the degree of FDG accumulation in the vessel wall reflects underlying inflammation levels and that tracking any changes in FDG uptake over time or with drug therapy might be a way of getting an early efficacy readout for novel anti-atherosclerotic drugs. Early reports also demonstrate that FDG uptake is correlated with the number of cardiovascular risk factors and possibly even the risk of future cardiovascular events. This review will outline the evidence base, shortcomings and emerging applications for FDG-PET in vascular imaging. Alternative PET tracers and other candidate imaging modalities for measuring vascular inflammation will also be discussed.

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