Theranostics 2013; 3(11):865-884. doi:10.7150/thno.5771 This issue


Molecular Imaging of Inflammation in Atherosclerosis

Moritz Wildgruber1✉, Filip K. Swirski2, Alma Zernecke3,4✉

1. Department of Radiology, Klinikum Rechts der Isar, Technische Universität München, Germany;
2. Center for Systems Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA;
3. Department of Vascular Surgery, Klinikum Rechts der Isar, Technische Universität München, Germany;
4. Deutsches Zentrum für Herz-Kreislauf Forschung (German Research Center for Cardiovascular Research), partner site Munich Heart Alliance, Munich, Germany.

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Wildgruber M, Swirski FK, Zernecke A. Molecular Imaging of Inflammation in Atherosclerosis. Theranostics 2013; 3(11):865-884. doi:10.7150/thno.5771. Available from

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Acute rupture of vulnerable plaques frequently leads to myocardial infarction and stroke. Within the last decades, several cellular and molecular players have been identified that promote atherosclerotic lesion formation, maturation and plaque rupture. It is now widely recognized that inflammation of the vessel wall and distinct leukocyte subsets are involved throughout all phases of atherosclerotic lesion development. The mechanisms that render a stable plaque unstable and prone to rupture, however, remain unknown and the identification of the vulnerable plaque remains a major challenge in cardiovascular medicine. Imaging technologies used in the clinic offer minimal information about the underlying biology and potential risk for rupture. New imaging technologies are therefore being developed, and in the preclinical setting have enabled new and dynamic insights into the vessel wall for a better understanding of this complex disease. Molecular imaging has the potential to track biological processes, such as the activity of cellular and molecular biomarkers in vivo and over time. Similarly, novel imaging technologies specifically detect effects of therapies that aim to stabilize vulnerable plaques and silence vascular inflammation. Here we will review the potential of established and new molecular imaging technologies in the setting of atherosclerosis, and discuss the cumbersome steps required for translating molecular imaging approaches into the clinic.

Keywords: Molecular imaging, Inflammation, Atherosclerosis