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Microdistribution of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Contrast Agents in Atherosclerotic Plaques Determined by LA-ICP-MS and SR-μXRF Imaging

Uca, Yavuz Oguz; Hallmann, David; Hesse, Bernhard; Seim, Christian; Stolzenburg, Nicola; Pietsch, Hubertus; Schnorr, Jörg; Taupitz, Matthias

Purpose: Contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has the potential to replace angiographic evaluation of atherosclerosis. While studies have investigated contrast agent (CA) uptake in atherosclerotic plaques, exact CA spatial distribution on a microscale is elusive. The purpose of this study was to investigate the microdistribution of gadolinium (Gd)- and iron (Fe) oxide-based CA in atherosclerotic plaques of New Zealand White rabbits. Procedures: The study was performed as a post hoc analysis of archived tissue specimens obtained in a previous in vivo MRI study conducted to investigate signal changes induced by very small superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (VSOP) and Gd-BOPTA. For analytical discrimination from endogenous Fe, VSOP were doped with europium (Eu) resulting in Eu-VSOP. Formalin-fixed arterial specimens were cut into 5-μm serial sections and analyzed by immunohistochemistry (IHC: Movat’s pentachrome, von Kossa, and Alcian blue (pH 1.0) staining, anti-smooth muscle cell actin (anti-SMA), and anti-rabbit macrophage (anti-RAM-11) immunostaining) and elemental microscopy with laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) and synchrotron radiation μX-ray fluorescence (SR-μXRF) spectroscopy. Elemental distribution maps of Fe, Eu, Gd, sulfur (S), phosphorus (P), and calcium (Ca) were investigated. Results: IHC characterized atherosclerotic plaque pathomorphology. Elemental microscopy showed S distribution to match the anatomy of arterial vessel wall layers, while P distribution corresponded well with cellular areas. LA-ICP-MS revealed Gd and Fe with a limit of detection of ~ 0.1 nmol/g and ~ 100 nmol/g, respectively. Eu-positive signal identified VSOP presence in the vessel wall and allowed the comparison of Eu-VSOP and endogenous Fe distribution in tissue sections. Extracellular matrix material correlated with Eu signal intensity, Fe concentration, and maximum Gd concentration. Eu-VSOP were confined to endothelium in early lesions but accumulated in cellular areas in advanced plaques. Gd distribution was homogeneous in healthy arteries but inhomogeneous in early and advanced plaques. SR-μXRF scans at 0.5 μm resolution revealed Gd hotspots with increased P and Ca concentrations at the intimomedial interface, and a size distribution ranging from a few micrometers to submicrometers. Conclusions: Eu-VSOP and Gd have distinct spatial distributions in atherosclerotic plaques. While Eu-VSOP distribution is more cell-associated and might be used to monitor atherosclerotic plaque progression, Gd distribution indicates arterial calcification and might help in characterizing plaque vulnerability.
Published in: Molecular Imaging and Biology, 10.1007/s11307-020-01563-z, Springer