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Carotid atherosclerotic plaque microcalcification is independently associated with recurrent neurovascular events: a pilot study.

BACKGROUND: Microcalcification and macrocalcification are critical processes in atherosclerotic plaque progression, though how these processes relate to the risk of stroke recurrence in symptomatic carotid atherosclerosis is poorly understood.

METHODS: We performed a post-hoc analysis of data from the ICARUSS study, where individuals with acute ischemic stroke originating from ipsilateral carotid stenosis of ≥50% underwent 18F-sodium fluoride-positron emission tomography (NaF-PET) to measure microcalcification. Tracer uptake was quantified using maximum tissue-to-background ratio (TBRmax). Macrocalcification was measured on computed tomography (CT) using Agatston scoring. Patients were followed up for six months for recurrent ipsilateral neurovascular events.

RESULTS: Five (27.8%) of 18 individuals had a recurrent ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack. Ipsilateral carotid plaque NaF uptake at baseline was higher in those with recurrent events compared to those without, and this association remained after adjustment for other vascular risk factors (OR 1.24, 1.03-1.50). Macrocalcification score in the symptomatic artery was also significantly independently associated with ipsilateral recurrence, but the effect size was relatively smaller (OR 1.12, 1.06-1.17 for each 100 unit increase).

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that microcalcification in symptomatic carotid plaques is independently associated with ipsilateral ischemic stroke recurrence. Furthermore, differences in the extent of active microcalcification in macrocalcified plaques may help explain variation in the relationship between calcified carotid plaques and stroke recurrence reported in the literature. Our pilot study indicates that evaluation of carotid artery microcalcification using NaF-PET may be a useful method for risk-stratification of carotid atherosclerosis, though our findings require confirmation in larger cohorts.

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