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J. Kevin DeMarco and John Huston III

In this paper, the authors review the definition of high-risk plaque as developed by experienced researchers in atherosclerosis, including pathologists, clinicians, molecular biologists, and imaging scientists. Current concepts of vulnerable plaque are based on histological studies of coronary and carotid artery plaque as well as natural history studies and include the presence of a lipid-rich necrotic core with an overlying thin fibrous cap, plaque inflammation, fissured plaque, and intraplaque hemorrhage. The extension of these histologically identified high-risk carotid plaque features to human in vivo MRI is reviewed as well. The authors also assess the ability of in vivo MRI to depict these vulnerable carotid plaque features. Next, the ability of these MRI-demonstrated high-risk carotid plaque features to predict the risk of ipsilateral carotid thromboembolic events is reviewed and compared with the risk assessment provided by simple carotid artery stenosis measurements. Lastly, future directions of high-risk carotid plaque MRI are discussed, including the potential for increased clinical availability and more automated analysis of carotid plaque MRI. The ultimate goal of high-risk plaque imaging is to design and run future multicenter trials using carotid plaque MRI to guide individual patient selection and decisions about optimal atherosclerotic treatment strategies.

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Waleed Brinjikji, John Huston III, Alejandro A. Rabinstein, Gyeong-Moon Kim, Amir Lerman and Giuseppe Lanzino

Carotid artery stenosis is a well-established risk factor of ischemic stroke, contributing to up to 10%-20% of strokes or transient ischemic attacks. Many clinical trials over the last 20 years have used measurements of carotid artery stenosis as a means to risk stratify patients. However, with improvements in vascular imaging techniques such as CT angiography and MR angiography, ultrasonography, and PET/CT, it is now possible to risk stratify patients, not just on the degree of carotid artery stenosis but also on how vulnerable the plaque is to rupture, resulting in ischemic stroke. These imaging techniques are ushering in an emerging paradigm shift that allows for risk stratifications based on the presence of imaging features such as intraplaque hemorrhage (IPH), plaque ulceration, plaque neovascularity, fibrous cap thickness, and presence of a lipid-rich necrotic core (LRNC). It is important for the neurosurgeon to be aware of these new imaging techniques that allow for improved patient risk stratification and outcomes. For example, a patient with a low-grade stenosis but an ulcerated plaque may benefit more from a revascularization procedure than a patient with a stable 70% asymptomatic stenosis with a thick fibrous cap.

This review summarizes the current state-of-the-art advances in carotid plaque imaging. Currently, MRI is the gold standard in carotid plaque imaging, with its high resolution and high sensitivity for identifying IPH, ulceration, LRNC, and inflammation. However, MRI is limited due to time constraints. CT also allows for high-resolution imaging and can accurately detect ulceration and calcification, but cannot reliably differentiate LRNC from IPH. PET/CT is an effective technique to identify active inflammation within the plaque, but it does not allow for assessment of anatomy, ulceration, IPH, or LRNC. Ultrasonography, with the aid of contrast enhancement, is a cost-effective technique to assess plaque morphology and characteristics, but it is limited in sensitivity and specificity for detecting LRNC, plaque hemorrhage, and ulceration compared with MRI.

Also summarized is how these advanced imaging techniques are being used in clinical practice to risk stratify patients with low- and high-grade carotid artery stenosis. For example, identification of IPH on MRI in patients with low-grade carotid artery stenosis is a risk factor for failure of medical therapy, and studies have shown that such patients may fair better with carotid endarterectomy (CEA). MR plaque imaging has also been found to be useful in identifying revascularization candidates who would be better candidates for CEA than carotid artery stenting (CAS), as high intraplaque signal on time of flight imaging is associated with vulnerable plaque and increased rates of adverse events in patients undergoing CAS but not CEA.

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Stephen P. Lownie and David M. Pelz

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Daichi Nakagawa, Yasunori Nagahama, Bruno A. Policeni, Madhavan L. Raghavan, Seth I. Dillard, Anna L. Schumacher, Srivats Sarathy, Brian J. Dlouhy, Saul Wilson, Lauren Allan, Henry H. Woo, John Huston III, Harry J. Cloft, Max Wintermark, James C. Torner, Robert D. Brown Jr. and David M. Hasan

OBJECTIVE

Aneurysm growth is considered predictive of future rupture of intracranial aneurysms. However, how accurately neuroradiologists can reliably detect incremental aneurysm growth using clinical MRI is still unknown. The purpose of this study was to assess the agreement rate of detecting aneurysm enlargement employing generally used MRI modalities.

METHODS

Three silicone flow phantom models, each with 8 aneurysms of various sizes at different sites, were used in this study. The aneurysm models were identical except for an incremental increase in the sizes of the 8 aneurysms, which ranged from 0.4 mm to 2 mm. The phantoms were imaged on 1.5-T and 3-T MRI units with both time-of-flight (TOF) and contrast-enhanced MR angiography. Three independent expert neuroradiologists measured the aneurysms in a blinded manner using different measurement approaches. The individual and agreement detection rates of aneurysm enlargement among the 3 experts were calculated.

RESULTS

The mean detection rate of any increase in any aneurysmal dimension was 95.7%. The detection rates of the 3 observers (observers A, B, and C) were 98.0%, 96.6%, and 92.7%, respectively (p = 0.22). The detection rates of each MRI modality were 91.3% using 1.5-T TOF, 97.2% using 1.5-T with Gd, 95.8% using 3.0-T TOF, and 97.2% using 3.0-T with Gd (p = 0.31). On the other hand, the mean detection rate for aneurysm enlargement was 54.8%. Specifically, the detection rates of observers A, B, and C were 49.0%, 46.1%, and 66.7%, respectively (p = 0.009). As the incremental enlargement value increased, the detection rate for aneurysm enlargement increased. The use of 1.5-T Gd improved the detection rate for small incremental enlargement (e.g., 0.4–1 mm) of the aneurysm (p = 0.04). The location of the aneurysm also affected the detection rate for aneurysm enlargement (p < 0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS

The detection rate and interobserver agreement were very high for aneurysm enlargement of 0.4–2 mm. The detection rate for at least 1 increase in any aneurysm dimension did not depend on the choice of MRI modality or measurement protocol. Use of Gd improved the accuracy of measurement. Aneurysm location may influence the accuracy of detecting enlargement.

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Vance T. Lehman, Waleed Brinjikji, Mahmud Mossa-Basha, Giuseppe Lanzino, Alejandro A. Rabinstein, David F. Kallmes and John Huston III

Intracranial aneurysms are heterogeneous in histopathology and imaging appearance. The biological behavior of different types of aneurysms is now known to depend on the structure and physiology of the aneurysm wall itself in addition to intraluminal flow and other luminal features. Aneurysm wall structure and imaging markers of physiology such as aneurysm wall enhancement have been assessed in many prior investigations using conventional-resolution MRI. Recently, high-resolution vessel wall imaging (HR-VWI) techniques with MRI have been introduced. Reports of findings on high-resolution imaging have already emerged for many types of aneurysms demonstrating detailed characterization of wall enhancement, thickness, and components, but many questions remain unexplored. This review discusses the key HR-VWI literature to date. Aneurysm wall findings on conventional-resolution MRI are also discussed as these may help one understand the potential utility and findings on HR-VWI for various aneurysm types. The authors have illustrated these points with several examples demonstrating both features already described in the literature and novel cases demonstrating the potential for future clinical and research applications.

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Vance T. Lehman, Petrice M. Cogswell, Lorenzo Rinaldo, Waleed Brinjikji, John Huston III, James P. Klaas and Giuseppe Lanzino

Numerous recent technological advances offer the potential to substantially enhance the MRI evaluation of moyamoya disease (MMD). These include high-resolution volumetric imaging, high-resolution vessel wall characterization, improved cerebral angiographic and perfusion techniques, high-field imaging, fast scanning methods, and artificial intelligence. This review discusses the current state-of-the-art MRI applications in these realms, emphasizing key imaging findings, clinical utility, and areas that will benefit from further investigation. Although these techniques may apply to imaging of a wide array of neurovascular or other neurological conditions, consideration of their application to MMD is useful given the comprehensive multidimensional MRI assessment used to evaluate MMD. These MRI techniques span from basic cross-sectional to advanced functional sequences, both qualitative and quantitative.

The aim of this review was to provide a comprehensive summary and analysis of current key relevant literature of advanced MRI techniques for the evaluation of MMD with image-rich case examples. These imaging methods can aid clinical characterization, help direct treatment, assist in the evaluation of treatment response, and potentially improve the understanding of the pathophysiology of MMD.

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Vance T. Lehman, Kendall H. Lee, Bryan T. Klassen, Daniel J. Blezek, Abhinav Goyal, Bhavya R. Shah, Krzysztof R. Gorny, John Huston III and Timothy J. Kaufmann

The thalamic ventral intermediate nucleus (VIM) can be targeted for treatment of tremor by several procedures, including deep brain stimulation (DBS) and, more recently, MR-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS). To date, such targeting has relied predominantly on coordinate-based or atlas-based techniques rather than directly targeting the VIM based on imaging features. While general regional differences of features within the thalamus and some related white matter tracts can be distinguished with conventional imaging techniques, internal nuclei such as the VIM are not discretely visualized. Advanced imaging methods such as quantitative susceptibility mapping (QSM) and fast gray matter acquisition T1 inversion recovery (FGATIR) MRI and high-field MRI pulse sequences that improve the ability to image the VIM region are emerging but have not yet been shown to have reliability and accuracy to serve as the primary method of VIM targeting. Currently, the most promising imaging approach to directly identify the VIM region for clinical purposes is MR diffusion tractography.

In this review and update, the capabilities and limitations of conventional and emerging advanced methods for evaluation of internal thalamic anatomy are briefly reviewed. The basic principles of tractography most relevant to VIM targeting are provided for familiarization. Next, the key literature to date addressing applications of DTI and tractography for DBS and MRgFUS is summarized, emphasizing use of direct targeting. This literature includes 1-tract (dentatorubrothalamic tract [DRT]), 2-tract (pyramidal and somatosensory), and 3-tract (DRT, pyramidal, and somatosensory) approaches to VIM region localization through tractography.

The authors introduce a 3-tract technique used at their institution, illustrating the oblique curved course of the DRT within the inferior thalamus as well as the orientation and relationship of the white matter tracts in the axial plane. The utility of this 3-tract tractography approach to facilitate VIM localization is illustrated with case examples of variable VIM location, targeting superior to the anterior commissure–posterior commissure plane, and treatment in the setting of pathologic derangement of thalamic anatomy. Finally, concepts demonstrated with these case examples and from the prior literature are synthesized to highlight several potential advantages of tractography for VIM region targeting.