Characterization of healing following atherosclerotic carotid plaque rupture in acutely symptomatic patients: an exploratory study using in vivo cardiovascular magnetic resonance.


BACKGROUND: Carotid plaque rupture, characterized by ruptured fibrous cap (FC), is associated with subsequent cerebrovascular events. However, ruptured FC may heal following stroke and convey decreased risk of future events. This study aims to characterize the healing process of ruptured FC by assessing the lumen conditions, quantified by the lumen curvature and roughness, using in vivo carotid cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR). METHODS: Patients suffering from transient ischemic attack underwent high resolution carotid MR imaging within 72 hours of the acute cerebrovascular ischemic event. CMR imaging was repeated at 3 and 12 months in 26 patients, in whom FC rupture/erosion was observed on baseline images and subsequent cerebrovascular events were recorded during the follow-up period. Lumen curvature and roughness were quantified from carotid CMR images and changes in these values were monitored on follow-up imaging. RESULTS: Healing of ruptured plaque was observed in patients (23 out of 26) without any ischemic symptom recurrence as shown by the lumen surface becoming smoother during the follow-up period, characterized by decreasing maximum lumen curvature (p < 0.05), increasing minimum lumen curvature (p < 0.05) and decreasing lumen roughness (p < 0.05) during the one year follow-up period. CONCLUSIONS: Carotid plaque healing can be assessed by quantification of the lumen curvature and roughness and the incidence of recurrent cerebrovascular events may be high in plaques that do not heal with time. The assessment of plaque healing may facilitate risk stratification of recent stroke patients on the basis of CMR results.