CT attenuation features of individual calcified coronary plaque: differences among asymptomatic, stable angina pectoris, and acute coronary syndrome groups

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 24;10(6):e0131254. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131254. eCollection 2015.


Background: Coronary artery calcium (CAC) assessed by non-contrast cardiac CT has been shown to be an independent factor from the Framingham risk factors in predicting cardiovascular events. However, many patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS) have low CAC score. A recent study that re-analyzed the previous CAC CT scan of MESA cohort showed that in subjects with global lower density, CAC was associated with higher risk of ACS. We aimed to further evaluate the characteristics of CAC attenuation features in ACS subjects, in comparison to asymptomatic and stable angina pectoris (SAP) groups.

Methods: In a period of 18 months, 524 consecutive subjects received standard CAC CT scans in our department; 278 of 524 subjects with presence of CAC (225 men, age = 60.6±9.5 years; ACS = 41, SAP = 78, asymptomatic = 159) were enrolled. Agatston score, number of plaques (NP) per subject and mean (HMEAN) and standard deviation (HSD) of attenuation of each calcified plaque were measured. Three regression models to distinguish the groups were built: model 1, conventional risk factors only; model 2, Agatston score plus model 1; model 3, plaque attenuation features plus model 2.

Results: Agatston score in ACS group (median = 112.9) was higher than in the asymptomatic group (median = 54.4, P = 0.028) and similar to the SAP group (median = 237.8, P = 0.428). Calcified plaques in the ACS group showed lower (HMEAN = 180.5) and more homogenous (HSD = 31.2) attenuation than those of the asymptomatic group (HMEAN = 205.9, P = 0.002; HSD = 52.4, P = 0.006) and the SAP group (HMEAN = 204.1, P = 0.016; HSD = 54.4, P = 0.011). Model 3 significantly improved the distinction between ACS and asymptomatic groups (area under curve [AUC] = 0.93) as compared to model 2 (AUC = 0.83, P = 0.003) and model 1 (AUC = 0.79, P = 0.001).

Conclusions: Calcified plaques in the ACS group were characteristically of low and homogenous CT attenuation. With validation in a large cohort, analysis of CT attenuation features may improve risk stratification of ACS using CAC CT scan.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Acute Coronary Syndrome / diagnostic imaging*
  • Aged
  • Angina, Stable / diagnostic imaging*
  • Artifacts
  • Calcinosis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / diagnostic imaging*
  • ROC Curve
  • Radiographic Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed

Grant support

This work had been supported by Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital (Grant ID: VGHKS100-074, VGHKS101-020, and VGHKS103-031.