Division of Nuclear Medicine, Department of Biomedical Imaging and Image-Guided Therapy, Medical University of Vienna, Währinger Gürtel 18-20, 1090, Vienna, Austria.
Purpose: Type 4 chemokine receptor (CXCR4) plays an important role in immune cell migration during the atherosclerosis progression. We aimed to evaluate [Ga]Pentixafor positron emission tomography (PET) in combination magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for in vivo quantification of CXCR4 expression in carotid plaques.
Methods: Seventy-two patients with lymphoma were prospectively scheduled for whole body [Ga]Pentixafor PET/MRI with an additional T2-weighted carotid sequence. Volumes of interest (VOIs) were drawn along the carotid bifurcation regions, and the maximum tissue-to-blood ratios (TBR) of [Ga]Pentixafor uptake were calculated. Lesions were categorized into non-eccentric (n = 27), mild eccentric (n = 67), moderately (n = 41) and severely (n = 19) eccentric carotid atherosclerosis. A different cohort of symptomatic patients (n = 10) with carotid stenosis scheduled for thrombendarterectomy (TEA) was separately imaged with 3T MRI with dedicated plaque sequences (time of flight, T1-, and T2-weighted). MRI findings were correlated with histochemical assessment of intact carotid plaques.
Results: At hybrid PET/MRI, we observed significantly increased [Ga]Pentixafor uptake in mildly (mean TBR = 1.57 ± 0.27, mean SUV = 2.51 ± 0.39), moderately (mean TBR = 1.64 ± 0.37, mean SUV = 2.61 ± 0.55) and severely eccentric carotids (mean TBR = 1.55 ± 0.26, mean SUV = 2.40 ± 0.44) as compared to non-eccentric carotids (mean TBR = 1.29 ± 0.21, mean SUV = 1.77 ± 0.42) (p ≤ 0.05). Histological findings from TEA confirmed that prominent CXCR4 expression was localized within inflamed atheromas and preatheromas. Co-localization of cellular CXCR4 and CD68 expression in the plaque was observed by immunofluorescence staining.
Conclusions: In vivo evaluation of CXCR4 expression in carotid atherosclerotic lesions is feasible using [Ga]Pentixafor PET/MRI. In atherosclerotic plaque tissue, CXCR4 expression might be used as a surrogate marker for inflammatory atherosclerosis.
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