Objectives: This study was designed to identify macrophage-rich atherosclerotic plaque noninvasively by imaging the tissue uptake of long-circulating superparamagnetic nanoparticles with a positive contrast off-resonance imaging sequence (inversion recovery with ON-resonant water suppression [IRON]).
Background: The sudden rupture of macrophage-rich atherosclerotic plaques can trigger the formation of an occlusive thrombus in coronary vessels, resulting in acute myocardial infarction. Therefore, a noninvasive technique that can identify macrophage-rich plaques and thereby assist with risk stratification of patients with atherosclerosis would be of great potential clinical utility.
Methods: Experiments were conducted on a clinical 3-T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner in 7 heritable hyperlipidemic and 4 control rabbits. Monocrystalline iron-oxide nanoparticles (MION)-47 were administrated intravenously (2 doses of 250 mumol Fe/kg), and animals underwent serial IRON-MRI before injection of the nanoparticles and serially after 1, 3, and 6 days.
Results: After administration of MION-47, a striking signal enhancement was found in areas of plaque only in hyperlipidemic rabbits. The magnitude of enhancement on magnetic resonance images had a high correlation with the number of macrophages determined by histology (p < 0.001) and allowed for the detection of macrophage-rich plaque with high accuracy (area under the curve: 0.92, SE: 0.04, 95% confidence interval: 0.84 to 0.96, p < 0.001). No significant signal enhancement was measured in remote areas without plaque by histology and in control rabbits without atherosclerosis.
Conclusions: Using IRON-MRI in conjunction with superparamagnetic nanoparticles is a promising approach for the noninvasive evaluation of macrophage-rich, vulnerable plaques.