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Curr Cardiol Rev. 2011 Feb;7(1):22-7. doi: 10.2174/157340311795677680.

Atherosclerotic plaque biomarkers: beyond the horizon of the vulnerable plaque.

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  • 1Experimental Cardiology Laboratory, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death globally, and the majority of CVD is caused by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a systemic inflammatory disease that leads to myocardial infarction, stroke and lower limb ischemia. Pathological studies have given insight to development of atherosclerosis and the importance of local plaque vulnerability, leading to thrombus formation and cardiovascular events. Due to the burden of cardiovascular disease, identification of patients at risk for cardiovascular events and treatment stratification is needed. The predictive power of classical risk factors is limited, especially in patients with manifest atherosclerosis. Imaging modalities have focused on the characteristics of the vulnerable plaque. However, it has become evident that not all so-called vulnerable plaques lead to rupture and subsequent thrombosis. The latter obviously limits the positive predictive value for imaging assessment of plaques and patients at risk. Serum biomarkers have also been studied extensively, but have very limited application in a clinical setting for risk stratification. In line with the important relation between vulnerable plaques and cardiovascular events, plaque biomarker studies have been initiated. These longitudinal studies are based on the concept, that a vulnerable plaque contains predictive information for future cardiovascular events, also in other territories of the vascular tree. Results look promising and plaque markers can be used to develop imaging modalities to identify patients at risk, or to monitor treatment effect. Plaque biomarker studies do not challenge the definition of the vulnerable plaque, but use its concept in favor of prediction improvement for vascular patients.


Atherosclerosis; biomarkers; cardiovascular outcome; prediction; vulnerable plaque.

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