Intracranial Plaque Enhancement in Patients with Cerebrovascular Events on High-Spatial-Resolution MR Images

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We have shown that intracranial atherosclerotic plaque enhancement can be used to identify lesions responsible for cerebrovascular ischemic events.


To characterize intracranial plaque inflammation in vivo by using three-dimensional (3D) high-spatial-resolution contrast material–enhanced black-blood (BB) magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and to investigate the relationship between intracranial plaque inflammation and cerebrovascular ischemic events.

Materials and Methods

The study was approved by the institutional review board and was HIPAA compliant. Twenty-seven patients (19 men; mean age, 56.8 years ± 12.4 [standard deviation]) with cerebrovascular ischemic events (acute stroke, n = 20; subacute stroke, n = 2; chronic stroke, n = 3; transient ischemic attack, n = 2) underwent 3D time-of-flight MR angiography and contrast-enhanced BB 3-T MR imaging for intracranial atherosclerotic disease. Each identified plaque was classified as either culprit (the only or most stenotic lesion upstream from a stroke), probably culprit (not the most stenotic lesion upstream from a stroke), or nonculprit (not within the vascular territory of a stroke). Plaque contrast enhancement was categorized on BB MR images (grade 0, enhancement less than or equal to that of normal arterial walls seen elsewhere; grade 1, enhancement greater than grade 0 but less than that of the pituitary infundibulum; grade 2, enhancement greater than or equal to that of the pituitary infundibulum), and degree of contrast enhancement was calculated. Associations of the likelihood of being a culprit lesion with both plaque contrast enhancement and plaque thickness were estimated with ordinal logistic regression.


Seventy-eight plaques were identified in 20 patients with acute stroke (21 [27%] culprit, 12 [15%] probably culprit, and 45 [58%] nonculprit plaques). In these patients, grade 2 contrast enhancement was associated with culprit plaques (odds ratio 34.6; 95% confidence interval: 4.5, 266.5 compared with grade 0) when adjusted for plaque thickness. Grade 0 was observed in only nonculprit plaques. Culprit plaques had a higher degree of contrast enhancement than did nonculprit plaques (25.9% ± 13.4 vs 13.6% ± 12.3, P = .003).


Contrast enhancement of intracranial atherosclerotic plaque is associated with its likelihood to have caused a recent ischemic event and may serve as a marker of its stability, thereby providing important insight into stroke risk.

© RSNA, 2014

Online supplemental material is available for this article.


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Article History

Received December 19, 2012; revision requested January 31, 2013; revision received June 24; accepted July 10; final version accepted October 8.
Published online: Jan 16 2014
Published in print: May 2014