Background: Coronary arteriography is considered the "gold standard" for evaluating the severity of a coronary stenosis. Because the resistance to blood flow through a stenotic lesion depends on a number of lesion characteristics, the physiological significance of coronary lesions of intermediate severity is often difficult to determine from angiography alone. This study of patients with coronary artery disease seeks to determine the relation between myocardial blood flow and flow reserve measured by positron emission tomography (PET) and the percent area stenosis on quantitative coronary arteriography.
Methods and results: We studied 28 subjects: 18 patients with coronary artery disease (66 +/- 8 years) and 10 age-matched healthy volunteers (64 +/- 13 years) with dynamic N-13 ammonia PET imaging at rest and after dipyridamole (0.56 mg/kg). The percent cross-sectional area stenosis was quantified on the coronary arteriograms as described by Brown et al. In the 18 patients, a total of 41 non-infarct-related coronary vessels were analyzed. Myocardial blood flows in normal regions of patients with coronary artery disease were not different than those in healthy volunteers, both at rest and after dipyridamole. As a result, the myocardial flow reserve was also similar in both groups (2.4 +/- 0.4 versus 2.6 +/- 0.7, respectively; P = NS). Quantitative PET estimates of hyperemic blood flow (r = .81, P < .00001), flow reserve (r = .78, P < .00001), and an index of the "minimal coronary resistance" (r = .78, P < .00001) were inversely and nonlinearly correlated with the percent area stenosis on angiography. Of note, PET estimates of myocardial flow reserve successfully differentiated coronary lesions of intermediate severity (50% to 70% and 70% to 90%; 2.4 +/- 0.4 versus 1.8 +/- 0.5, respectively; P = .04).
Conclusions: In patients with coronary artery disease, non-invasive measurements of myocardial blood flow and flow reserve by PET are inversely and nonlinearly related to stenosis severity as defined by quantitative angiography. Importantly, coronary lesions of intermediate severity have a differential flow reserve that decreases as stenosis increases that can be detected noninvasively by PET, thus allowing better definition of the functional importance of known coronary stenosis.