BackgroundA significant proportion of ischemic strokes are caused by emboli from atherosclerotic, unstable carotid artery plaques. The selection of patients for endarterectomy in current clinical practice is primarily based on the degree of carotid artery stenosis and clinical symptoms. However, the content of the plaque is known to be more important for stroke risk. Intraplaque neovascularization (IPN) has recently emerged as a possible surrogate marker for plaque instability. Neo-microvessels from the adventitial vasa vasorum grow into the full thickness of the vessel wall in an adaptive response to hypoxia, causing subsequent intraplaque haemorrhage and plaque rupture. Conventional ultrasound cannot detect IPN. Contrast-enhanced ultrasound and Superb Microvascular Imaging (SMI), have, however, shown promise in IPN assessment. Recent research using Shear Wave Elastography (SWE) has also reported reduced tissue stiffness in the artery wall (reduced mean Young’s modulus) in unstable compared to stable plaques. The purpose of this study is to identify unstable carotid artery plaques at risk of rupture and future ischemic stroke risk using multimodal assessments.
MethodsForty five symptomatic and 45 asymptomatic patients > 18 years, with > 50% carotid stenosis referred to Oslo University Hospital ultrasound lab will be included in this on-going project. Patients will undergo contrast enhanced ultrasound, SMI, carotid-MRI and PET-(18F-FDG). Contrast enhanced ultrasound will be analyzed semi-quantitatively (5-levels visual classification) and quantitatively by plotting time-intensity curve analyses to obtain plaque peak contrast enhancement intensity. Plaques removed at carotid endarterectomy will be assessed histologically and the number of microvessels, areas of inflammation, granulation, calcification, lipid and fibrosis will be measured.
DiscussionThis multimodality study will primarily provide information on the clinical value of advanced ultrasound methods (SMI, SWE) for the detection of unstable carotid artery plaque in comparison with other methods including contrast-enhanced ultrasound, carotid-MRI and PET-(18F-FDG) using histology as the gold standard. Secondly, findings from the methods mentioned above will be related to cerebrovascular symptoms, blood tests (leukocytes, CRP, ESR, lipoproteins and inflammatory markers) and cardiovascular risk factors at inclusion and at 1-year follow-up. The overall aim is to optimize detection of plaque instability which can lead to better preventive decisions and reduced stroke rate.
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