The Effect of Periplaque Fat on Coronary Plaque Vulnerability in Patients with Stable Coronary Artery Disease – a 128-multislice CT-based Study

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Background: The role of periplaque fat (PPF), as a fragment of the total epicardial adipose tissue, measured in the vicinity of a target coronary lesion, more specifically within the close proximity of a vulnerable plaque, has yet to be evaluated.

The study aimed to evaluate the interrelation between PPF and coronary plaque vulnerability in patients with stable coronary artery disease (CAD). Secondary objective: evaluation of the relationship between the total pericardial fat and markers for plaque vulnerability.

Materials and methods: We prospectively enrolled 77 patients with stable CAD, who underwent 128-multislice computed tomography coronary angiography (CTCA), and who presented minimum one lesion with >50% stenosis. CTCA analysis included measurements of: total pericardial fat and PPF volumes, coronary plaque characteristics, markers for plaque vulnerability – positive remodeling (PR), low attenuation plaque (LAP), spotty calcifications (SC,) napkin ring sign (NRS). Study subjects were divided into two categories: Group 1 – 1 marker of plaque vulnerability (n = 36, 46.75%) and Group 2 – ≥1 marker of vulnerability (n = 41, 53.25%).

Results: The mean age of the population was 61.77 ± 11.28 years, and 41 (53.24%) were males. The analysis of plaque characteristics showed that Group 2 presented significantly longer plaques (16.26 ± 4.605 mm vs. 19.09 ± 5.227 mm, p = 0.02), remodeling index (0.96 ± 0.20 vs. 1.18 ± 0.33, p = 0.0009), and vessel volume (p = 0.027), and more voluminous plaques (147.5 ± 71.74 mm3 vs. 207.7 ± 108.9 mm3, p = 0.006) compared to Group 1. Group 2 presented larger volumes of PPF (512.2 ± 289.9 mm3 vs. 710.9 ± 361.9 mm3, p = 0.01) and of thoracic fat volume (1,616 ± 614.8 mm3 vs. 2,000 ± 850.9 mm3, p = 0.02), compared to Group 1, but no differences were found regarding the total pericardial fat (p = 0.49). Patients with 3 or 4 vulnerability markers (VM) presented significantly larges PPF volumes compared to those with 1 or 2 VM, respectively (p = 0.008). There was a significant positive correlation between PPF volume and the non-calcified (r = 0.474, 95% CI 0.2797–0.6311, p <0.0001), lipid-rich (r = 0.316, 95% CI 0.099–0.504, p = 0.005), and fibro-fatty (r = 0.452, 95% CI 0.2541–0.6142, p <0.0001) volumes. The total pericardial fat was significantly correlated only with the volume of lipid-rich plaques (p = 0.02).

Conclusions: Periplaque fat volume was associated with a higher degree of coronary plaque vulnerability. PPF was correlated with lipid-rich, fibro-fatty, and non-calcified plaque-related volumes, as markers for enhanced plaque vulnerability. PPF volume, assessed with native cardiac computed tomography, could become a novel marker for coronary plaque vulnerability.

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