Atherosclerotic plaque rupture is the primary trigger of fatal cardiovascular events. Fibrillar collagen in atherosclerotic plaques and their directionality are anticipated to play a crucial role in plaque rupture. This study aimed assessing 3D fiber orientations and architecture in atherosclerotic plaques for the first time.Seven carotid plaques were imaged ex-vivo with a state-of-the-art Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) technique, using a high magnetic field (9.4. Tesla) MRI scanner. A 3D spin-echo sequence with uni-polar diffusion sensitizing pulsed field gradients was utilized for DTI and fiber directions were assessed from diffusion tensor measurements. The distribution of the 3D fiber orientations in atherosclerotic plaques were quantified and the principal fiber orientations (circumferential, longitudinal or radial) were determined.Overall, 52% of the fiber orientations in the carotid plaque specimens were closest to the circumferential direction, 34% to the longitudinal direction, and 14% to the radial direction. Statistically no significant difference was measured in the amount of the fiber orientations between the concentric and eccentric plaque sites. However, concentric plaque sites showed a distinct structural organization, where the principally longitudinally oriented fibers were closer to the luminal side and the principally circumferentially oriented fibers were located more abluminally. The acquired unique information on 3D plaque fiber direction will help understanding pathobiological mechanisms of atherosclerotic plaque progression and pave the road to more realistic biomechanical plaque modeling for rupture assessment.

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Journal of Structural Biology
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Akyildiz, A., Chai, C.-K., Oomens, C., van der Lugt, A., Baaijens, F., Strijkers, G., & Gijsen, F. (2017). 3D Fiber Orientation in Atherosclerotic Carotid Plaques. Journal of Structural Biology. doi:10.1016/j.jsb.2017.08.003