Purpose: Apoptosis is commonly observed in advanced atherosclerotic lesions. 99mTc-annexin A5 (99mTc-annexin V) has been proposed as a potential tracer for imaging apoptosis in atherosclerotic plaques. Accordingly, we determined the usefulness of 99mTc-annexin A5 as an atherosclerosis imaging tracer in a rabbit model (myocardial infarction-prone Watanabe heritable hyperlipidemic rabbits; WHHLMI rabbits) of spontaneous atherosclerosis.
Methods: The WHHLMI and control rabbits were injected intravenously with 99mTc-annexin A5. After in vivo planar imaging, the radioactivity in the aorta was measured. Autoradiography, TUNEL staining, Azan-Mallory staining and immunohistological studies were performed serially throughout the aorta.
Results: 99mTc-Annexin A5 accumulation in the aorta of the WHHLMI rabbits was 5.6-fold higher than in that of control rabbits. Autoradiography showed heterogeneous multifocal accumulation of 99mTc-annexin A5 in WHHLMI rabbits. 99mTc-Annexin A5 accumulation was highest in the atheromatous lesions (6.2+/-2.5, %IDxBW/mm2x10(3)), followed in decreasing order by neointimal (4.9+/-1.3), fibroatheromatous (4.5+/-1.9), and collagen-rich lesions (3.3+/-1.4). The regional 99mTc-annexin A5 accumulation was significantly correlated with the TUNEL-positive cell density, macrophage density and "vulnerability index," an index of the morphological destabilized characteristics. The in vivo imaging clearly visualized the atherosclerotic lesions in WHHLMI rabbits.
Conclusion: The present study in WHHLMI rabbits showed higher 99mTc-annexin A5 accumulation in grade IV atheroma than in other more stable lesions. 99mTc-Annexin A5 may be useful in identifying atheroma that is at higher risk for rupture and possibly in assessing the response to anti-atherosclerotic therapy.