Association of plaque calcification pattern and attenuation with instability features and coronary stenosis and calcification grade

Atherosclerosis. 2020 Oct;311:150-157. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2020.06.021. Epub 2020 Jul 6.


Background and aims: Coronary computed tomography (CT) allows calculating coronary artery calcium score (CACS). However, other CT features might be more strongly related to plaque vulnerability and risk of future coronary events. This study investigated the association of plaque calcification pattern and attenuation with plaque instability features, coronary artery disease (CAD) grade and CACS.

Methods: One-hundred patients with coronary stenosis associated with calcified plaques were considered for this analysis. CACS, CAD grade, calcification pattern and attenuation, features of plaque instability, and epicardial adipose tissue (EAT) thickness and attenuation were assessed with non-contrast and contrast-enhanced CT angiography.

Results: Of 373 calcified plaques, 131 were responsible for the highest degree of coronary stenosis (1.31 ± 0.53 per patient). Participants were stratified according to the features of the highest-grade lesion(s) into patients with large (35%), spotty (52%) or mixed (13%) calcification pattern and tertiles of plaque calcification attenuation (using the mean value for multiple lesions). Patients with large calcification pattern or higher plaque calcification attenuation had higher stenosis and CACS grade (and EAT attenuation), but lower plaque instability score, whereas those with spotty calcification pattern or lower plaque calcification attenuation had lower stenosis and CACS grade (and EAT attenuation), but higher plaque instability score. Among the instability features, low attenuation and napkin-ring sign, but not positive remodeling, were associated with a spotty pattern and a lower calcification attenuation.

Conclusions: Both the pattern and attenuation of calcification should be considered, in addition to CACS, for risk stratification of heavily calcified high-risk patients with non-critical coronary stenosis.

Keywords: Coronary artery calcium score; Coronary artery disease; Epicardial adipose tissue; Plaque calcification attenuation; Plaque instability; Spotty calcification.

MeSH terms

  • Computed Tomography Angiography
  • Coronary Angiography
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Stenosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / diagnostic imaging
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Vascular Calcification* / diagnostic imaging