Novel Imaging-Based Biomarkers for Identifying Carotid Plaque Vulnerability †
Carotid artery disease has traditionally been assessed based on the degree of luminal narrowing. However, this approach, which solely relies on carotid stenosis, is currently being questioned with regard to modern risk stratification approaches. Recent guidelines have introduced the concept of the “vulnerable plaque,” emphasizing specific features such as thin fibrous caps, large lipid cores, intraplaque hemorrhage, plaque rupture, macrophage infiltration, and neovascularization. In this context, imaging-based biomarkers have emerged as valuable tools for identifying higher-risk patients. Non-invasive imaging modalities and intravascular techniques, including ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, intravascular ultrasound, optical coherence tomography, and near-infrared spectroscopy, have played pivotal roles in characterizing and detecting unstable carotid plaques. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the evolving understanding of carotid artery disease and highlight the significance of imaging techniques in assessing plaque vulnerability and informing clinical decision-making.