• Current status of vulnerable plaque detection.

      Sharif, Faisal; Murphy, Ross T; Department of Cardiology, St James' Hospital, St James' Street, Dublin 8,, Ireland. faisalshareef@yahoo.com (2012-02-01)
      Critical coronary stenoses have been shown to contribute to only a minority of acute coronary syndromes (ACS) and sudden cardiac death. Autopsy studies have identified a subgroup of high-risk patients with disrupted vulnerable plaque and modest stenosis. Consequently, a clinical need exists to develop methods to identify these plaques prospectively before disruption and clinical expression of disease. Recent advances in invasive and noninvasive imaging techniques have shown the potential to identify these high-risk plaques. The anatomical characteristics of the vulnerable plaque such as thin cap fibroatheroma and lipid pool can be identified with angioscopy, high frequency intravascular ultrasound, intravascular MRI, and optical coherence tomography. Efforts have also been made to recognize active inflammation in high-risk plaques using intravascular thermography. Plaque chemical composition by measuring electromagnetic radiation using spectroscopy is also an emerging technology to detect vulnerable plaques. Noninvasive imaging with MRI, CT, and PET also holds the potential to differentiate between low and high-risk plaques. However, at present none of these imaging modalities are able to detect vulnerable plaque neither has been shown to definitively predict outcome. Nevertheless in contrast, there has been a parallel development in the physiological assessment of advanced atherosclerotic coronary artery disease. Thus recent trials using fractional flow reserve in patients with modest non flow-limiting stenoses have shown that deferral of PCI with optimal medical therapy in these patients is superior to coronary intervention. Further trials are needed to provide more information regarding the natural history of high-risk but non flow-limiting plaque to establish patient-specific targeted therapy and to refine plaque stabilizing strategies in the future.