PET imaging of inflammation in atherosclerosis

Nat Rev Cardiol. 2014 Aug;11(8):443-57. doi: 10.1038/nrcardio.2014.80. Epub 2014 Jun 10.


PET imaging of atherosclerosis can quantify several in vivo pathological processes occurring within the arterial system. (18)F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) is the most-commonly used PET tracer, with well-established roles in atherosclerosis imaging. In this context, the (18)F-FDG signal largely reflects tracer uptake by plaque macrophages and, therefore, inflammation with smaller contributions from other resident cell types. As a marker of plaque vulnerability, the (18)F-FDG PET signal can be used to help to identify patients at the highest risk of clinical events. (18)F-FDG PET has also been used successfully as a surrogate end point in clinical trials of antiatherosclerotic therapies. Nonetheless, imaging atherosclerosis with (18)F-FDG has several limitations. Most importantly, coronary artery imaging is problematic because (18)F-FDG accumulates in all cells that metabolize glucose, and background myocardial uptake is generally greater than any signal originating from a plaque. To help to overcome these limitations, several novel PET tracers, which might be more-specifically targeted than (18)F-FDG, have been tested in atherosclerosis imaging. These tracers are designed to track inflammation, hypoxia, neoangiogenesis, or active calcification, which are all precursors to plaque rupture and its clinical sequelae.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / diagnostic imaging*
  • Macrophages / diagnostic imaging
  • Macrophages / pathology
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / diagnostic imaging
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / pathology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals*


  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18