Advances in MRI for the evaluation of carotid atherosclerosis.
Carotid artery atherosclerosis is an important source of mortality and morbidity in the Western world with significant socioeconomic implications. The quest for the early identification of the vulnerable carotid plaque is already in its third decade and traditional measures, such as the sonographic degree of stenosis, are not selective enough to distinguish those who would really benefit from a carotid endarterectomy. MRI of the carotid plaque enables the visualization of plaque composition and specific plaque components that have been linked to a higher risk of subsequent embolic events. Blood suppressed T1 and T2 weighted and proton density-weighted fast spin echo, gradient echo and time-of-flight sequences are typically used to quantify plaque components such as lipid-rich necrotic core, intraplaque haemorrhage, calcification and surface defects including erosion, disruption and ulceration. The purpose of this article is to review the most important recent advances in MRI technology to enable better diagnostic carotid imaging.