OBJECTIVE. Vulnerable and nonvulnerable carotid artery plaques have different tissue morphology and composition that may affect plaque biomechanics. The objective of this study is to evaluate plaque vulnerability with the use of ultrasound noninvasive vascular elastography (NIVE). MATERIALS AND METHODS. Thirty-one patients (mean [± SD] age, 69 ± 7 years) with stenosis of the internal carotid artery of 50% or greater were enrolled in this cross-sectional study. Elastography parameters quantifying axial strain, shear strain, and translation motion were used to characterize carotid artery plaques as nonvulnerable, neovascularized, and vulnerable. Maximum axial strain, cumulated axial strain, mean shear strain, cumulated shear strain, cumulated axial translation, and cumulated lateral translations were measured. Cumulated measurements were summed over a cardiac cycle. The ratio of cumulated axial strain to cumulated axial translation was also evaluated. The reference method used to characterize plaques was high-resolution MRI. RESULTS. According to MRI, seven plaques were vulnerable, 12 were nonvulnerable without neovascularity, and 12 were nonvulnerable with neovascularity (a precursor of vulnerability). The two parameters cumulated axial translation and the ratio of cumulated axial strain to cumulated axial translation could discriminate between nonvulnerable plaques and vulnerable plaques or determine the presence of neovascularity in nonvulnerable plaques (which was also possible with the mean shear strain parameter). All parameters differed between the nonvulnerable plaque group and the group that combined vulnerable plaques and plaques with neovascularity. The most discriminating parameter for the detection of vulnerable neovascularized plaques was the ratio of cumulated axial strain to cumulated axial translation (expressed as percentage per millimeter) (mean ratio, 39.30%/mm ± 12.80%/mm for nonvulnerable plaques without neovascularity vs 63.79%/mm ± 17.59%/mm for vulnerable plaques and nonvulnerable plaques with neovascularity, p = 0.002), giving an AUC value of 0.886. CONCLUSION. The imaging parameters cumulated axial translation and the ratio of cumulated axial strain to cumulated axial translation, as computed using NIVE, were able to discriminate vulnerable carotid artery plaques characterized by MRI from nonvulnerable carotid artery plaques. Consideration of neovascularized plaques improved the performance of NIVE. NIVE may be a valuable alternative to MRI for carotid artery plaque assessment.
- Noninvasive vascular elastography
- Plaque translation motion
- Strain and shear strain imaging
- Ultrasound imaging
- Vulnerable carotid artery plaque