Clinical and Translational Imaging

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 267–284 | Cite as

PET imaging of vulnerable coronary artery plaques

  • Lucia LeccisottiEmail author
  • P. Nicoletti
  • C. Cappiello
  • L. Indovina
  • A. Giordano
Expert Review
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Cardiovascular



In the last years, the identification of vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques to prevent acute coronary events has been one of the main objectives of the cardiovascular science community. In this review, we provide an overview of vulnerable coronary artery plaque imaging by positron emission tomography (PET).

Methods and results

Relevant methodological and technical aspects of PET on coronary artery plaque imaging are first analysed. Second, the main radiotracers used in this area as well as the main results of the clinical studies published so far are described. From published data, specialized approaches are recommended for imaging protocol and quantitative analysis of plaque activity. 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG), the first radiotracer used for its wide availability, has several limitations for the detection and quantification of coronary artery plaque inflammation. 18F-sodium fluoride (18F-NaF), a marker of vascular microcalcification, seems to be the most promising radiotracer for vulnerable coronary artery plaque imaging. 68Ga-DOTATATE and 68Ga-pentixafor have also shown interesting results on coronary plaque inflammation in humans. Data on coronary imaging in humans are lacking for other radiotracers that target inflammation, hypoxia and neoangiogenesis.


Molecular imaging by PET is a powerful tool for imaging different components of vulnerable coronary artery plaques and, potentially, for selecting patients at high-risk of myocardial infarction for personalized treatments. However, the results of large clinical trials on asymptomatic patients to link coronary plaque activity to patient outcome are strongly required.


Coronary plaque Vulnerable plaque Unstable plaque PET PET/CT 


Author contributions

LL: conception and design of the article, literature search and analysis, drafting of the article, and critical revision. PN: literature search and analysis and manuscript writing. CC: literature search and analysis, and manuscript writing. IL: literature search and analysis, manuscript writing, and critical revision. AG: design of the article, manuscript writing and critical revision. All authors approved the final version of the article.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.

Ethical standards

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by the any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Italian Association of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Diagnostica per Immagini, Radioterapia Oncologica ed Ematologia, UOC di Medicina NucleareFondazione Policlinico Universitario A. Gemelli IRCCSRomeItaly
  2. 2.Istituto di Medicina NucleareUniversità Cattolica del Sacro CuoreRomeItaly
  3. 3.Dipartimento di Diagnostica per Immagini, Radioterapia Oncologica ed Ematologia, UOC di Fisica SanitariaFondazione Policlinico Universitario A. Gemelli IRCCSRomeItaly

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