Unravelling the role of macrophages in cardiovascular inflammation through imaging: a state-of-the-art review

Eur Heart J Cardiovasc Imaging. 2022 Nov 17;23(12):e504-e525. doi: 10.1093/ehjci/jeac167.


Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death and disability for patients across the world. Our understanding of atherosclerosis as a primary cholesterol issue has diversified, with a significant dysregulated inflammatory component that largely remains untreated and continues to drive persistent cardiovascular risk. Macrophages are central to atherosclerotic inflammation, and they exist along a functional spectrum between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory extremes. Recent clinical trials have demonstrated a reduction in major cardiovascular events with some, but not all, anti-inflammatory therapies. The recent addition of colchicine to societal guidelines for the prevention of recurrent cardiovascular events in high-risk patients with chronic coronary syndromes highlights the real-world utility of this class of therapies. A highly targeted approach to modification of interleukin-1-dependent pathways shows promise with several novel agents in development, although excessive immunosuppression and resulting serious infection have proven a barrier to implementation into clinical practice. Current risk stratification tools to identify high-risk patients for secondary prevention are either inadequately robust or prohibitively expensive and invasive. A non-invasive and relatively inexpensive method to identify patients who will benefit most from novel anti-inflammatory therapies is required, a role likely to be fulfilled by functional imaging methods. This review article outlines our current understanding of the inflammatory biology of atherosclerosis, upcoming therapies and recent landmark clinical trials, imaging modalities (both invasive and non-invasive) and the current landscape surrounding functional imaging including through targeted nuclear and nanobody tracer development and their application.

Keywords: 68Gallium-DOTATATE positron emission tomography; activated macrophages; cardiovascular inflammation; coronary artery disease; coronary imaging; optical coherence tomography.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Atherosclerosis* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / diagnostic imaging
  • Macrophages / metabolism


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents