The aim of this study was to assess the histopathological differences between advanced atherosclerotic carotid artery (CA) plaques with signal hyperintensity on T1-weighted MR images and those without, focusing on necrotic core size and intraplaque hemorrhage (IPH).
Thirty-five patients scheduled for carotid endarterectomy underwent preoperative CA MR imaging using 3D inversion-recovery-based T1-weighted imaging (magnetization-prepared rapid acquisition gradient-echo [MPRAGE]). The signal intensity of the CA plaque on MPRAGE sequences was classified as “high” when the intensity was more than 200% that of adjacent muscle. A total of 96 axial MR images obtained in 35 patients were compared with corresponding histological sections from 36 excised specimens. The area of the necrotic core in histological sections was compared between specimens with and without high signal intensity on MPRAGE sequences. The IPH was histopathologically graded according to the size of the area positive for glycophorin A as revealed by immunohistochemical staining. The difference between plaques with and without high signal intensity was investigated with respect to the degree of IPH. The relationship of the severity of IPH to size of the necrotic core was also evaluated.
The area of the necrotic core in plaques with high signal intensity on MPRAGE sequences was significantly larger than that in plaques without high signal intensity (median 51.2% [interquartile range 43.3–66.8%] vs 49.0% [33.2–57.6%], p = 0.029). Carotid artery plaques with high signal intensity had significantly more severe IPH than plaques with lower signal intensity (p < 0.0001). The severity of IPH was significantly associated with the size of the necrotic core (p < 0.0001).
Atherosclerotic CA plaques with high signal intensity on MPRAGE sequences had large necrotic cores with IPH in patients with high-grade stenosis; MPRAGE is useful for the evaluation of CA plaque progression.