Morphology of vulnerable coronary plaque: insights from follow-up of patients examined by intravascular ultrasound before an acute coronary syndrome

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2000 Jan;35(1):106-11. doi: 10.1016/s0735-1097(99)00533-1.


Objectives: To determine the morphologic features of coronary plaques associated with acute coronary syndrome, we prospectively followed patients with atherosclerotic disease identified by intravascular ultrasound (IVUS).

Background: Although clinical evaluation of the vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque is important, few data exist regarding the morphology of the vulnerable plaque in clinical settings.

Methods: We examined 114 coronary sites without significant stenosis by angiography (<50% diameter stenosis) in 106 patients. All the sites exhibited atherosclerotic lesions by IVUS. These lesions consisted of 22 concentric and 92 eccentric plaques with a percent plaque area averaging 59 +/- 12%.

Results: During the follow-up period of 21.8 +/- 6.4 months (range 1 to 24), 12 patients had an acute coronary event at a previously examined coronary site at an average of 4.0 +/- 3.4 months after the initial IVUS study. All the preexisting plaques related to the acute events exhibited an eccentric pattern and the mean percent plaque area was 67 +/- 9%, which was greater than plaque area in the other 90 patients without acute events (57 +/- 12%, p < 0.05). There was no statistically significant difference in lumen area between two patient groups (6.7 +/- 3.0 vs. 7.5 +/- 3.7 mm2). Among 12 coronary sites with an acute occlusion, 10 sites contained the echolucent zones, eight of these shallow and two deep, likely representing a lipid-rich core. In 90 sites without acute events, an echolucent zone in the shallow portion was seen at only four sites (p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Large eccentric plaque containing an echolucent zone by IVUS can be at increased risk for instability even though the lumen area is preserved at the time of initial study. Compensatory enlargement of vessel wall due to remodeling may contribute to the relatively small degree of stenosis by angiography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Angina Pectoris / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging
  • Endosonography*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Observer Variation
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors