Dual-energy CT plaque characteristics of post mortem thin-cap fibroatheroma in comparison to infarct-related culprit lesions

Heart Vessels. 2022 Mar;37(3):400-410. doi: 10.1007/s00380-021-01942-8. Epub 2021 Oct 4.


Improvement of non-invasive identification of high-risk plaque may increase the preventive options of acute coronary syndrome. To describe the characteristics of thin-cap fibroatheroma (TCFA) in a post mortem model in comparison to characteristics of culprit lesions in patients with non-ST-elevation-myocardial-infarction (NSTEMI) using the dual energy computed tomography (DECT). Three post mortem hearts were prepared with iodine-contrast, inserted in a Kyoto phantom and scanned by DECT. Six TCFA were identified using histopathological analysis (cap thickness < 65 μm and necrotic core > 10% of the plaque area). In the NSTEMI group, 29 patients were scheduled to DECT prior to coronary angiography and invasive treatment. Culprit lesions were identified blinded for the patient history by two independent invasive cardiologists using the coronary angiography. The DECT analysis of TCFA and culprit lesions was performed retrospectively with determination of effective atomic number (Effective-Z), Hounsfield Unit (HU), plaque type (non-calcified, predominantly non-calcified, predominantly calcified or calcified), spotty calcification,, plaque length, plaque volume and plaque burden and the remodeling index. The Effective-Z, HU and plaqueburden were significantly different between TCFA and culprit lesions (P < 0.05).The TCFA plaques were more calcified in comparison to culprit lesions (P < 0.05). No significant difference in the other plaque characteristics was observed. The use of DECT demonstrated different Effective-Z values and different characteristics of post mortem TCFA in comparison to in vivo culprit lesions. This finding may highlight, that not all TCFA should be considered as vulnerable.

Keywords: Cardiac computed tomography angiography; Culprit lesions; Thin-cap fibro atheroma; Vulnerable plaques.

MeSH terms

  • Coronary Angiography / methods
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / pathology
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Vessels / pathology
  • Humans
  • Non-ST Elevated Myocardial Infarction*
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / diagnosis
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / pathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods