Objectives: Atherosclerosis is recognised as an inflammatory disease, and new diagnostic tools are warranted to evaluate plaque inflammatory activity and risk of cardiovascular events. We investigated -fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) uptake in vulnerable carotid plaques visualised by positron emission tomography (PET). Uptake was correlated to quantitative gene expression of known markers of inflammation and plaque vulnerability.
Methods: Ten patients with recent transient ischaemic attack and carotid artery stenosis (>50%) underwent combined FDG-PET and computed tomography angiography (CTA) the day before carotid endarterectomy. Plaque mRNA expression of the inflammatory cytokine interleukin 18 (IL-18), the macrophage-specific marker CD68 and the two proteinases, Cathepsin K and matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9), were quantified using real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction.
Results: Consistent up-regulation of CD68 (3.8-fold+/-0.9; mean+/-standard error), Cathepsin K (2.1-fold+/-0.5), MMP-9 (122-fold+/-65) and IL-18 (3.4-fold+/-0.7) were found in the plaques, compared to reference-artery specimens. The FDG uptake by plaques was strongly correlated with CD68 gene expression (r=0.71, P=0.02). Any correlations with Cathepsin K, MMP-9 or IL-18 gene expression were weaker.
Conclusions: FDG-PET uptake in carotid plaques is correlated to gene expression of CD68 and other molecular markers of inflammation and vulnerability.