Imaging of high-risk carotid artery plaques: current status and future directions

Neurosurg Focus. 2014 Jan;36(1):E1. doi: 10.3171/2013.10.FOCUS13384.


In this paper, the authors review the definition of high-risk plaque as developed by experienced researchers in atherosclerosis, including pathologists, clinicians, molecular biologists, and imaging scientists. Current concepts of vulnerable plaque are based on histological studies of coronary and carotid artery plaque as well as natural history studies and include the presence of a lipid-rich necrotic core with an overlying thin fibrous cap, plaque inflammation, fissured plaque, and intraplaque hemorrhage. The extension of these histologically identified high-risk carotid plaque features to human in vivo MRI is reviewed as well. The authors also assess the ability of in vivo MRI to depict these vulnerable carotid plaque features. Next, the ability of these MRI-demonstrated high-risk carotid plaque features to predict the risk of ipsilateral carotid thromboembolic events is reviewed and compared with the risk assessment provided by simple carotid artery stenosis measurements. Lastly, future directions of high-risk carotid plaque MRI are discussed, including the potential for increased clinical availability and more automated analysis of carotid plaque MRI. The ultimate goal of high-risk plaque imaging is to design and run future multicenter trials using carotid plaque MRI to guide individual patient selection and decisions about optimal atherosclerotic treatment strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carotid Arteries / pathology
  • Carotid Stenosis / complications
  • Carotid Stenosis / diagnosis*
  • Carotid Stenosis / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / complications
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / diagnosis*
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / pathology
  • Risk Assessment