Morphological Features and Plaque Composition in Culprit Atheromatous Plaques of Patients with Acute Coronary Syndromes

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Background: The independent role of each plaque feature in relation to plaque vulnerability is still the subject of ongoing research. This study aimed to compare the morphologic characteristics of vulnerable atheromatous coronary plaques with the ones of stable, non-vulnerable plaques, and in plaques with different locations in the coronary tree, in order to identify the most relevant imaging-based biomarkers associated with coronary plaque vulnerability.

Material and methods: This was a prospective observational, non-randomized study that included 50 patients with unstable angina who underwent computed tomography angiography for assessment of the entire coronary artery tree followed by complex morphologic analysis of all lesions, divided into two groups: group 1 – 25 patients with vulnerable plaque (VP) and group 2 – 25 age- and gender-matched patients with non-vulnerable plaque (NVP).

Results: Lesions with a stenosis degree >70% were significantly longer than those with a stenosis degree <70% (8.27 ± 2.74 mm vs. 5.56 ± 4.11 mm, p = 0.04). VP presented significantly higher values of plaque thickness (p = 0.0005), plaque burden (p = 0.0004), and higher total plaque volume (p = 0.0005) than NVP. The remodeling index was not significantly different between the groups (p = 0.6), but the eccentricity index was (0.24 ± 0.14 compared to 0.14 ± 0.17, p = 0.023). Linear regression analysis revealed a significant correlation between plaque burden and plaque components in VP (r = 0.76, p <0.0001 for necrotic core; r = 0.62, p = 0.0008 for fibro-fatty tissue; and r = 0.5, p = 0.01 for fibrotic tissue volume). Culprit plaques located in the right coronary artery presented significantly larger plaque burden volumes (91.17 ± 4.88 mm3 vs. 83.35 ± 8.47 mm3, p = 0.04), larger volumes of necrotic core (82.03 ± 47.85 mm3 vs. 45.84 ± 43.72 mm3, p = 0.02) and fibrofatty tissue (53.23 ± 31.92 mm3 vs. 23.76 ± 20.90 mm3, p = 0.02) than the ones situated in the left coronary artery.

Conclusions: VPs from the culprit lesions exhibit a different phenotype than non-vulnerable ones, and vulnerability features are present in a significantly larger extent in VPs from the right coronary artery as compared to those from the left coronary artery.

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