Rupture of vulnerable plaques is the main cause of acute coronary syndrome and myocardial infarction. Identification of vulnerable plaques is therefore essential to enable the development of treatment modalities to stabilize such plaques. Several diagnostic methods are currently tested to detect vulnerable plaques. Angiography has a low discriminatory power to identify the vulnerable plaque, but does provide information about the entire coronary tree and serves as guide for invasive imaging techniques and therapy. Angioscopy offers a direct visualization of the plaque surface and intra- luminal structures like thrombi and tears. However, angioscopy is difficult to perform, invasive and only the proximal part of the vessels can be investigated. IVUS (intravascular ultrasound) provides some insight into the composition of plaques. The detection of vulnerable plaques is mainly based on series of case reports with a lack of prospectivity and follow- up. Palpography, an IVUS derived technique, reveals information, which is not recognizable in IVUS. It can differentiate between deformable and non-deformable tissue, which enables the technique to detect vulnerable plaques with a positive predictive value. The clinical value of palpography is currently under investigation. Thermography assesses the temperature heterogeneity as an indicator of the metabolic state of the plaque. A coincidence of temperature rise and localization of vulnerable plaque was suggested. OCT (optical coherence tomography) can provide images with ultrahigh resolution utililizing the back-reflection of near-infrared light from optical interfaces in tissue. Drawbacks are the low penetration depth into tissue and the absorbance of light by blood. Raman spectroscopy can provide quantification about the molecular composition of the plaque. Long acquisition time, the low penetration depth and light absorbance by blood limit the performance of the technique. Another light emitting technique is NIR (near infrared spectroscopy), which identifies lipid loaded plaques and is tested currently in clinical trials. Non-invasive MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and multislice spiral computed tomography (MSCT), with their excellent ability to identify lipid-rich tissue, have been utilized to characterize potentially vulnerable plaques foremost in non-moving structures like the carotid arteries. Due to the resolution of the techniques small plaque structure cannot be assessed. The role of non-invasive imaging in vulnerable plaque detection is currently under investigation. Several invasive and non-invasive techniques are currently under development to assess the vulnerable plaque. Most of the techniques show exiting features, but none have proven their value in an extensive in vivo validation and all have a lack of prospective data.
Keywords: Vulnerable plaque, MSCT, MRI, IVUS, Palpography, OCT, Near infrared spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, Thermography, Angiography
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