Background: Plaque vulnerability to rupture has emerged as a critical correlate to risk of adverse coronary events but there is as yet no clinical method to assess plaque stability in vivo. In the search to identify biomarkers of vulnerable plaques an association has been found between macrophages and plaque stability-the density and pattern of macrophage localization in lesions is indicative of probability to rupture. In very unstable plaques, macrophages are found in high densities and concentrated in the plaque shoulders. Therefore, the ability to map macrophages in plaques could allow noninvasive assessment of plaque stability. We use a multimodality imaging approach to noninvasively map the distribution of macrophages in vivo. The use of multiple modalities allows us to combine the complementary strengths of each modality to better visualize features of interest. Our combined use of Positron Emission Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (PET/MRI) allows high sensitivity PET screening to identify putative lesions in a whole body view, and high resolution MRI for detailed mapping of biomarker expression in the lesions. Methodology/Principal Findings: Macromolecular and nanoparticle contrast agents targeted to macrophages were developed and tested in three different mouse and rat models of atherosclerosis in which inflamed vascular plaques form spontaneously and/or are induced by injury. For multimodal detection, the probes were designed to contain gadolinium (T1 MRI) or iron oxide (T2 MRI), and Cu-64 (PET). PET imaging was utilized to identify regions of macrophage accumulation; these regions were further probed by MRI to visualize macrophage distribution at high resolution. In both PET and MR images the probes enhanced contrast at sites of vascular inflammation, but not in normal vessel walls. MRI was able to identify discrete sites of inflammation that were blurred together at the low resolution of PET. Macrophage content in the lesions was confirmed by histology. Conclusions/Significance: The multimodal imaging approach allowed high-sensitivity and high-resolution mapping of biomarker distribution and may lead to a clinical method to predict plaque probability to rupture.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)