Minimization of MR contrast weightings for the comprehensive evaluation of carotid atherosclerotic disease

Xihai Zhao, Hunter R. Underhill, Chun Yuan, Minako Oikawa, Li Dong, Hideki Ota, Thomas S. Hatsukami, Qingjun Wang, Lin Ma, Jianming Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE:: Multicontrast, high-resolution carotid magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been validated with histology to quantify atherosclerotic plaque morphology and composition. For evaluating the lipid-rich necrotic core (LRNC) and fibrous cap, both of which are key elements in determining plaque stability, the combined pre-and postcontrast T1-weighted (T1W) sequences have been recently shown to have a higher reproducibility than other contrast weightings. In this study, we sought to determine whether contrast weightings beyond T1W (pre-and postcontrast) are necessary for comprehensive, quantitative, carotid plaque interpretation. MATERIALS AND METHODS:: Our HIPAA compliant study protocol was approved by the IRB and all participants gave written, informed consent. Sixty-five participants with carotid stenosis >50% detected by ultrasound underwent carotid MRI with a standard multicontrast protocol (time-of-flight [TOF], T1W, contrast-enhanced [CE]-T1W, proton density [PD], and T2W). For each subject, images were partitioned into 3 combinations of contrast weightings (CW): (1) 2CW: T1W and CE-T1W; (2) 3CW: T1W, CE-T1W, and TOF; and (3) 5CW: T1W, CE-T1W, TOF, PD, and T2W. Each CW set was interpreted by 2 reviewers, blinded to results of each of the other CW combinations, via consensus opinion. Wall, lumen, and total vessel volumes, along with mean wall thickness were recorded. The presence or absence of calcification, LRNC, intraplaque hemorrhage (IPH), and surface disruption was also documented. RESULTS:: Compared with 5CW, there was strong agreement in the parameters of plaque morphology for 2CW (intraclass correlation coefficient, 0.96-0.99) and 3CW (intraclass correlation coefficient, 0.97-1.00). Agreement with 5CW for the detection of plaque composition was stronger for 3CW compared with 2CW: Cohen's kappa, 0.59 versus 0.42 for calcification; 0.75 versus 0.47 for LRNC; 0.91 versus 0.88 for IPH; and 0.74 versus 0.34 for surface disruption. Using 5CW as the reference standard during receive-operating-characteristics analysis, 3CW compared with 2CW showed a larger area-under-the-curve for classifying the presence or absence of calcification (0.78 vs. 0.69), LRNC (0.98 vs. 0.69), and surface disruption (0.87 vs. 0.65), and similar area-under-the-curve in classifying IPH (0.96 vs. 0.94). CONCLUSION:: Comprehensive, quantitative carotid plaque interpretation can be performed with T1W, CE-T1W, and TOF sequences. Elimination of PD and T2W sequences from the carotid MRI protocol may result in a substantial reduction in scan time. The ability to perform plaque interpretation on images acquired within a clinically acceptable scan time may broaden the research utility of carotid MRI and increase translatability to clinical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-41
Number of pages6
JournalInvestigative Radiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Jan


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Carotid artery
  • Magnetic resonance imaging


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