Protease Imaging of Human Atheromata Captures Molecular Information of Atherosclerosis, Complementing Anatomic Imaging
Objective— There is hope that molecular imaging can identify vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques. However, there is a paucity of clinical translational data to guide the future development of this field. Here, we cross-correlate cathepsin-B or matrix metalloproteinase-2/-9 molecular optical imaging data of human atheromata or emboli with conventional imaging data, clinical data, and histopathologic data.
Methods and Results— Fifty-two patients undergoing carotid endarterectomy (41 atheromata) or carotid stenting (15 captured emboli) were studied with protease-activatable imaging probes. We show that protease-related fluorescent signal in carotid atheromata or in emboli closely reflects the pathophysiologic alterations of plaque inflammation and statin-mediated therapeutic effects on plaque inflammation. Inflammation-related fluorescent signal was observed in the carotid bifurcation area and around ulcero-hemorrhagic lesions. Pathologically proven unstable plaques had high cathepsin-B–related fluorescent signal. The distribution patterns of the mean cathepsin-B imaging signals showed a difference between the symptomatic vs asymptomatic plaque groups. However, the degree of carotid stenosis or ultrasonographic echodensity was weakly correlated with the inflammatory proteolytic enzyme-related signal, suggesting that molecular imaging yields complimentary new information not available to conventional imaging.
Conclusion— These results could justify and facilitate clinical trials to evaluate the use of protease-sensing molecular optical imaging in human atherosclerosis patients.