Nuclear Molecular Imaging for Vulnerable Atherosclerotic Plaques

Korean J Radiol. 2015 Sep-Oct;16(5):955-66. doi: 10.3348/kjr.2015.16.5.955. Epub 2015 Aug 21.


Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease as well as a lipid disorder. Atherosclerotic plaque formed in vessel walls may cause ischemia, and the rupture of vulnerable plaque may result in fatal events, like myocardial infarction or stroke. Because morphological imaging has limitations in diagnosing vulnerable plaque, molecular imaging has been developed, in particular, the use of nuclear imaging probes. Molecular imaging targets various aspects of vulnerable plaque, such as inflammatory cell accumulation, endothelial activation, proteolysis, neoangiogenesis, hypoxia, apoptosis, and calcification. Many preclinical and clinical studies have been conducted with various imaging probes and some of them have exhibited promising results. Despite some limitations in imaging technology, molecular imaging is expected to be used both in the research and clinical fields as imaging instruments become more advanced.

Keywords: Molecular imaging; PET; SPECT; Vulnerable plaque.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Atherosclerosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Endothelial Cells / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Macrophages / immunology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Radiography
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon


  • Lipoproteins, LDL