Rupture of unstable plaques may lead to myocardial infarction or stroke and is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in western countries. Thus, there is a clear need for identifying these vulnerable plaques before the rupture occurs. Atherosclerotic plaques are a challenging imaging target as they are small and move rapidly, especially in the coronary tree. Many of the currently available imaging tools for clinical use still provide minimal information about the biological characteristics of plaques, because they are limited with respect to spatial and temporal resolution. Moreover, many of these imaging tools are invasive. The new generation of imaging modalities such as magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear imaging such as positron emission tomographyand single photon emission computed tomography, computed tomography, fluorescence imaging, intravascular ultrasound, and optical coherence tomography offer opportunities to overcome some of these limitations.
This review discusses the potential of these techniques for imaging the unstable plaque.