Identification of Atherosclerotic Lipid Deposits by Diffusion-Weighted Imaging
Objectives— The content and distribution of lipids is an important aspect of plaque vulnerability, but lipids are present within a heterogeneous environment, impeding detection by magnetic resonance imaging. Our goal was to achieve accurate detection of mobile lipids by a single magnetic resonance imaging sequence.
Methods and Results— Carotid endarectomy specimens (n=23) were imaged ex vivo at a high magnetic field (11.7 T) within 24 hours after surgery. Three contrast-weighted (T1W, T2W, and diffusion-weighted imaging [DWI]) image sequences were acquired and then coregistered with histological preparations for lipids (Oil red O and polarized light microscopy) and fibrous tissue (trichrome). Contrast-to-noise ratios were measured and compared for the 3 contrast weightings. Contrast-to-noise ratio measurement in regions identified as lipid versus fibrous tissue showed greater differences by DWI (4.5±0.63 versus 0.64±0.08; P<0.05) as compared with T2W (2.83±0.36 versus 1.36±0.37; P<0.05). We validated the presence and distribution of lipids (mainly cholesteryl esters) by both histology and image-guide spectroscopy. The basis for distinguishing mobile lipid and water inside the plaque was illustrated by diffusion-weighted spectroscopy.
Conclusions— Biophysical properties of plaque lipids can confer selective identification by DWI, as opposed to standard T1W and T2W imaging sequences. Successful translation of DWI in vivo could identify of features of vulnerable plaque.