Association of carotid atherosclerotic plaque features with acute ischemic stroke: a magnetic resonance imaging study

Eur J Radiol. 2013 Sep;82(9):e465-70. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2013.04.014. Epub 2013 May 13.


Background and purpose: It remains unclear whether direct vessel wall imaging can identify carotid high-risk lesions in symptomatic subjects and whether carotid plaque characteristics are more effective indicators for cerebral infarct severity than stenosis. This study sought to determine the associations of carotid plaque characteristics by MR imaging with stenosis and acute cerebral infarct (ACI) sizes on diffusion weighted imaging (DWI).

Materials and methods: One hundred and fourteen symptomatic patients underwent carotid and brain MRI. ACI volume was determined from symptomatic internal carotid artery territory on DWI images. Ipsilateral carotid plaque morphological and compositional characteristics, and stenosis were also determined. The relationships between carotid plaque characteristics, stenosis and ACIs size were then evaluated.

Results: In carotid arteries with 30-49% stenosis, 86.7% and 26.7% were found to have lipid-rich necrotic core (LRNC) and intraplaque hemorrhage, respectively. Furthermore, 45.8% of carotid arteries with 0-29% stenosis developed LRNCs. Carotid morphological measurements, such as % wall volume, and the LRNC size were significantly associated with ipsilateral ACIs volume before and after adjustment for significant demographic factors (age and LDL) or stenosis in patients with carotid plaque (all p<0.05).

Conclusions: A substantial number of high-risk plaques characterized by vessel wall imaging exist in carotid arteries with lower grade stenosis. In addition, carotid plaque characteristics, particularly the % wall volume and LRNC size, are independently associated with cerebral infarction as measured by DWI lesions. Our findings indicate that characterizing atherosclerotic plaque by MR vessel wall imaging might be useful for stratification of plaque risk and infarction severity.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Carotid arteries; Magnetic resonance imaging; Plaque; Stenosis; Stroke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Brain Ischemia / epidemiology*
  • Brain Ischemia / pathology*
  • Carotid Artery Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Carotid Artery Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Carotid Intima-Media Thickness
  • Causality
  • China / epidemiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Factors
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Stroke / diagnosis*
  • Stroke / epidemiology*