Plaque imaging with CT—a comprehensive review on coronary CT angiography based risk assessment
CT based technologies have evolved considerably in recent years. Coronary CT angiography (CTA) provides robust assessment of coronary artery disease (CAD). Early coronary CTA imaging—as a gate-keeper of invasive angiography—has focused on the presence of obstructive stenosis. Coronary CTA is currently the only non-invasive imaging modality for the evaluation of non-obstructive CAD, which has been shown to contribute to adverse cardiac events. Importantly, improved spatial resolution of CT scanners and novel image reconstruction algorithms enable the quantification and characterization of atherosclerotic plaques. State-of-the-art CT imaging can therefore reliably assess the extent of CAD and differentiate between various plaque features. Recent studies have demonstrated the incremental prognostic value of adverse plaque features over luminal stenosis. Comprehensive coronary plaque assessment holds potential to significantly improve individual risk assessment incorporating adverse plaque characteristics, the extent and severity of atherosclerotic plaque burden. As a result, several coronary CTA based composite risk scores have been proposed recently to determine patients at high risk for adverse events. Coronary CTA became a promising modality for the evaluation of functional significance of coronary lesions using CT derived fractional flow reserve (FFR-CT) and/or rest/dynamic myocardial CT perfusion. This could lead to substantial reduction in unnecessary invasive catheterization procedures and provide information on ischemic burden of CAD. Discordance between the degree of stenosis and ischemia has been recognized in clinical landmark trials using invasive FFR. Both lesion stenosis and composition are possibly related to myocardial ischemia. The evaluation of lesion-specific ischemia using combined functional and morphological plaque information could ultimately improve the diagnostic performance of CTA and thus patient care. In this review we aimed to summarize current evidence on comprehensive coronary artery plaque assessment using coronary CTA.