Current status of clinical magnetic resonance imaging for plaque characterisation in patients with carotid artery stenosis

Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg. 2013 Jan;45(1):7-21. doi: 10.1016/j.ejvs.2012.10.022. Epub 2012 Nov 28.


Objective: The article aims to provide an overview of the literature that assessed the agreement between magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and histology for specific carotid plaque characteristics associated with vulnerability in terms of sensitivity and specificity.

Methods: A systematic search strategy was conducted in MEDLINE and EMBASE databases resulting in 1084 articles. Finally, we included 17 papers. Due to variation in presentation, especially in MRI and histology methods, a pooled analysis could not be performed.

Results: Two studies were performed on a 3.0-T MRI scanner; all other studies were performed on a 1.5-T scanner. Most performed sequences were two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) T1-weighted and all histology protocols varied slightly. Our results indicate that calcification, fibrous cap, intraplaque haemorrhage and lipid-rich necrotic cores can be identified with moderate-to-good sensitivity and specificity.

Conclusions: Based on current literature, it appears premature for routine application of MRI as an imaging modality to assess carotid plaque characteristics associated with plaque vulnerability. Although MRI still holds promise, clinical application for plaque characterisation would require consensus regarding MRI settings and confirmation by histology. Predefined protocols for histology and MR imaging need to be established.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carotid Arteries / chemistry
  • Carotid Arteries / pathology*
  • Carotid Stenosis / diagnosis*
  • Carotid Stenosis / metabolism
  • Carotid Stenosis / pathology
  • Fibrosis
  • Hemorrhage / diagnosis
  • Hemorrhage / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography*
  • Necrosis
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Vascular Calcification / diagnosis
  • Vascular Calcification / pathology


  • Lipids