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J Atheroscler Thromb. 2014;21(9):895-903. Epub 2014 Jul 29.

Assessment of coronary atherosclerosis using optical coherence tomography.

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Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Wakayama Medical University.


Optical coherence tomography (OCT) is a catheter-based imaging system that uses near-infrared light to produce cross-sectional images of the coronary arteries. With its extraordinarily high resolution (10-20 μm), OCT allows clinicians to observe various morphological features of coronary atherosclerosis in vivo. For example, intimal thickening presents as homogeneous, signal-rich regions on OCT, while fibroatheroma with a lipid-rich necrotic core is characterized by the presence of signal-poor regions with a diffuse border. Furthermore, plaque rupture is detected in 50〜70% of culprit lesions of acute coronary syndrome (ACS), and plaque erosion develops over areas of intimal thickening and/or thick-cap fibroatheroma. Meanwhile, calcified nodules are common in older patients with hypertension and chronic renal disease. Platelet-rich thrombi are visualized as low backscattering structures and often detected in patients with unstable angina, whereas red blood cell-rich thrombi exhibit a high backscattering structure with signal-free shadowing and are frequently noted in patients with acute myocardial infarction. Moreover, OCT-derived thin cap fibroatheroma has been shown to be a predictor of subsequent plaque progression and acute coronary events, while vasa vasorum and the macrophage density are associated with a thin fibrous cap and large necrotic core as well as increased serum levels of inflammatory biomarkers. One current challenge of OCT examinations is to detect morphologic characteristics capable of discriminating vulnerable from stable plaques. The ability to detect vulnerable plaques in vivo would allow physicians to identify patients at high risk for adverse coronary events, thus significantly helping to prevent ACS.

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