We present a preliminary study demonstrating the capability of ultrasound-guided intravascular photoacoustic (IVPA) imaging to visualize the depth-resolved distribution of lipid deposits in atherosclerotic plaques in vivo. Based on the characteristic optical absorption of lipid in the near infrared wavelength range, IVPA imaging at a single, 1720 nm, wavelength was used to provide a spatially-resolved, direct measurement of lipid content in atherosclerotic arteries. By overlaying an IVPA image with a spatially co-registered intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) image, the combined IVPA/IVUS image was used to visualize lipid distribution within the vessel wall. Ultrasound-guided IVPA imaging was performed in vivo in the abdominal aorta of a Watanabe heritable hyperlipidemic (WHHL) rabbit. Subsequently, the excised rabbit aorta filled with a solution of red blood cells (RBC) was then imaged ex vivo, and histology was obtained in the section adjacent to the imaged cross-section. To demonstrate the potential for future clinical application of IVPA/IVUS imaging, a sample of diseased human right coronary artery (RCA) was also imaged. Both in vivo and ex vivo IVPA images clearly showed the distribution of lipid in the atherosclerotic vessels. In vivo IVPA imaging was able to identify diffuse, lipid-rich plaques in the WHHL rabbit model of atherosclerosis. Furthermore, IVPA imaging at a single wavelength was able to identify the lipid core within the human RCA ex vivo. Our results demonstrate that ultrasound-guided IVPA imaging can identify lipid in atherosclerotic plaques in vivo. Importantly, the IVPA/IVUS images were obtained in presence of luminal blood and no saline flush or balloon occlusion was required. Overall, our studies suggest that ultrasound-guided IVPA imaging can potentially be used for depth-resolved visualization of lipid deposits within the anatomical context of the vessel wall and lumen. Therefore, IVUS/IVPA imaging may become an important tool for the detection of rupture-prone plaques.
Copyright © 2012 World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.