Contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) is increasingly being used to identify patients with carotid plaques that are vulnerable to rupture, so-called vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques, by assessment of intraplaque neovascularization. A complete overview of the strengths and limitations of carotid CEUS is currently not available. The aim of this systematic review was to provide a complete overview of existing publications on the role of CEUS in assessment of carotid intraplaque neovascularization. The systematic review of the literature yielded 52 studies including a total of 4660 patients (mean age: 66 y, 71% male) who underwent CEUS for the assessment of intraplaque neovascularization. The majority of the patients (76%) were asymptomatic and had no history of transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke. The assessment of intraplaque neovascularization was mostly performed using a visual scoring system; several studies used time–intensity curves or dedicated quantification software to optimize analysis. In 17 studies CEUS was performed in patients before carotid surgery (endarterectomy), allowing a comparison of pre-operative CEUS findings with histologic analysis of the tissue sample that is removed from the carotid artery. In a total of 576 patients, the CEUS findings were compared with histopathological analysis of the plaque after surgery. In 16 of the 17 studies, contrast enhancement was found to correlate with the presence and degree of intraplaque neovascularization on histology. Plaques with a larger amount of contrast enhancement had significantly increased density of microvessels in the corresponding region on histology. In conclusion, CEUS is a readily available imaging modality for the assessment of patients with carotid atherosclerosis, providing information on atherosclerotic plaques, such as ulceration and intraplaque neovascularization, which may be clinically relevant. The ultimate clinical goal is the early identification of carotid atherosclerosis to start early preventive therapy and prevent clinical complications such as TIA and stroke.

Atherosclerosis, Carotid, Contrast-enhanced ultrasound, Vulnerable plaque,
Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Schinkel, A.F.L, Bosch, J.G, Staub, D, Adam, D, & Feinstein, S.B. (Steven B.). (2020). Contrast-Enhanced Ultrasound to Assess Carotid Intraplaque Neovascularization. Ultrasound in Medicine & Biology (Vol. 46, pp. 466–478). doi:10.1016/j.ultrasmedbio.2019.10.020