Objectives: This study was designed to evaluate whether calcium deposition in the coronary arteries is related to atherosclerotic plaque burden and narrowing of the arterial lumen.
Background: Many studies have recently documented the feasibility of electron beam computed tomography to detect and quantify coronary artery calcification in patients. Although these studies suggest a general relation between calcification and severity of coronary artery disease, the value of coronary calcium in defining atherosclerotic plaque and coronary lumen narrowing is unclear. Previous pathologic comparisons have failed to detail such a relation in identical histologic sections. This finding may be due to atherosclerotic remodeling.
Methods: A total of 37 nondecalcified coronary arteries were processed, sectioned at 3-mm intervals (723 sections) and evaluated by computer planimetry and densitometry.
Results: A significant relation between calcium area and plaque area was found on a per-heart basis (n = 13, r = 0.87, p < 0.0001), per-artery basis (left anterior descending coronary artery [LAD]: n = 13, r = 0.89, p < 0.0001; left circumflex coronary artery [LCx]: n = 11, r = 0.7, p < 0.001; right coronary artery [RCA]: n = 13, r = 0.89, p < 0.0001) and per-segment basis (n = 723, r = 0.52, p < 0.0001). In contrast, a poor relation existed between residual histologic lumen area and calcium area for individual hearts (r = 0.48, p = NS), individual coronary arteries (LAD: r = 0.59, p = NS; LCx: r = 0.10, p = NS; RCA: r = 0.59, p = NS) and coronary segments (r = 0.07, p = NS). Longitudinal changes in external elastic lamina areas were highly correlated with changes in plaque area values (r = 0.60, p < 0.0001), whereas lumen area did not correlate with plaque size change (r = 0.01, p = NS).
Conclusions: Coronary calcium quantification is an excellent method of assessing atherosclerotic plaque presence at individual artery sites. Moreover, the amount of calcium correlates with the overall magnitude of atherosclerotic plaque burden. This study suggests that the remodeling phenomenon is the likely explanation for the lack of a good predictive value between lumen narrowing and quantification of mural calcification.