Targeting Chemokine Receptor CXCR4 and Translocator Protein for Characterization of High-Risk Plaque in Carotid Stenosis Ex Vivo [Brief Reports]

Background and Purpose—This pilot study aims to demonstrate the feasibility of targeting molecular characteristics of high-risk atherosclerotic plaque in symptomatic and asymptomatic carotid stenosis (CS), that is, upregulation of the translocator protein (TSPO) and the chemokine receptor type 4 (CXCR4), by means of molecular imaging.Methods—In a translational setting, specimens of carotid plaques of patients with symptomatic and asymptomatic CS obtained by carotid endarterectomy were analyzed for the presence of TSPO and CXCR4 by autoradiography, using the positron emission tomography tracers 18F-GE180 and 68Ga-Pentixafor and evaluated by histopathology. In addition, 68Ga-Pentixafor positron emission tomography/computed tomography was performed in a patient with high-grade CS.Results—Distinct patterns of upregulation of TSPO (18F-GE180 uptake) and CXCR4 (68Ga-Pentixafor uptake) were identified in carotid plaque by autoradiography. The spatial distribution was associated with specific histological hallmarks that are established features of high-risk plaque: TSPO upregulation correlated with activated macrophages infiltration, whereas CXCR4 upregulation also corresponded to areas of intraplaque hemorrhage. 68Ga-Pentixafor uptake was significantly higher in plaques of symptomatic compared with asymptomatic CS. Clinical positron emission tomography revealed marked 68Ga-Pentixafor uptake in carotid plaque of a patient with high-grade CS.Conclusions—Clinical imaging of molecular signatures of high-risk atherosclerotic plaque is feasible and may become a promising diagnostic tool for comprehensive characterization of carotid disease. This methodology provides a platform for future studies targeting carotid plaque.