Coronary Plaque Characteristics Associated With Major Adverse Cardiovascular Events in Atherosclerotic Patients and Lesions: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2023 Dec;16(12):1584-1604. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmg.2023.08.006. Epub 2023 Oct 4.


Background: The clinical value of high-risk coronary plaque characteristics (CPCs) to inform intensified medical therapy or revascularization of non-flow-limiting lesions remains uncertain.

Objectives: The authors performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to study the prognostic impact of CPCs on patient-level and lesion-level major cardiovascular adverse events (MACE).

Methods: Thirty studies (21 retrospective, 9 prospective) with 30,369 patients evaluating the association of CPCs with MACE were included. CPCs included high plaque burden, low minimal lumen area, thin cap fibroatheroma, high lipid core burden index, low-attenuation plaque, spotty calcification, napkin ring sign, and positive remodeling.

Results: CPCs were evaluated with the use of intracoronary modalities in 9 studies (optical coherence tomography in 4 studies, intravascular ultrasound imaging in 3 studies, and near-infrared spectroscopy intravascular ultrasound imaging in 2 studies) and by means of coronary computed tomographic angiography in 21 studies. CPCs significantly predicted patient-level and lesion-level MACE in both unadjusted and adjusted analyses. For most CPCs, accuracy for MACE was modest to good at the patient level and moderate to good at the lesion level. Plaques with more than 1 CPC had the highest accuracy for lesion-level MACE (AUC: 0.87). Because the prevalence of CPCs among plaques was low, estimated positive predictive values for lesion-level MACE were modest. Results were mostly consistent across imaging modalities and clinical presentations, and in studies with prevailing hard outcomes.

Conclusions: Characterization of CPCs identifies high-risk atherosclerotic plaques that place lesions and patients at risk for future MACE, albeit with modest sensitivity and positive predictive value (Coronary Plaque Characteristics Associated With Major Adverse Cardiovascular Events Among Atherosclerotic Patients and Lesions; CRD42021251810).

Keywords: atherosclerosis; coronary computed tomographic angiography; high-risk plaque; intravascular ultrasound; optical coherence tomography; vulnerable plaque.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Coronary Angiography / methods
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / complications
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / therapy
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Vessels / pathology
  • Humans
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional