Objectives: This study was designed to evaluate contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging of carotid atherosclerosis as a clinical tool to study intraplaque neovascularization. Background: Plaque neovascularization is associated with plaque vulnerability and symptomatic disease; therefore, imaging of neovascularization in carotid atherosclerosis may represent a useful tool for clinical risk stratification and monitoring the efficacy of antiatherosclerotic therapies. Methods: Thirty-two patients with 52 carotid plaques were studied by standard and contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging. In 17 of these patients who underwent endarterectomy, the surgical specimen was available for histological determination of microvessel density by CD31/CD34 double staining. Plaque echogenicity and degree of stenosis at standard ultrasound imaging were evaluated for each lesion. Contrast-agent enhancement within the plaque was categorized as absent/peripheral (grade 1) and extensive/internal (grade 2). Results: In the surgical subgroup, plaques with higher contrast-agent enhancement showed a greater neovascularization at histology (grade 2 vs. grade 1 contrast-agent enhancement: median vasa vasorum density: 3.24/mm2 vs. 1.82/mm2, respectively, p = 0.005). In the whole series of 52 lesions, echolucent plaques showed a higher degree of contrast-agent enhancement (p <0.001). Stenosis degree was not associated with neovascularization at histology or with the grade of contrast-agent enhancement. Conclusions: Carotid plaque contrast-agent enhancement with sonographic agents correlates with histological density of neovessels and is associated with plaque echolucency, a well-accepted marker of high risk lesions, but it is unrelated to the degree of stenosis. Contrast-enhanced carotid ultrasound imaging may provide valuable information for plaque risk stratification and for assessing the response to antiatherosclerotic therapies, beyond that provided by standard ultrasound imaging.
- carotid artery
- contrast-enhanced ultrasound imaging
- vasa vasorum
ASJC Scopus subject areas