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Investigating Origins of FLIm Contrast in Atherosclerotic Lesions Using Combined FLIm-Raman Spectroscopy


Background: Fluorescence lifetime imaging (FLIm) is a spectroscopic imaging technique able to characterize the composition of luminal surface of arterial vessels. Studies of human coronary samples demonstrated that distinct atherosclerotic lesion types are characterized by FLIm features associate with distinct tissue molecular makeup. While conventional histology has provided indications about potential sources of molecular contrast, specific information about the origin of FLIm signals is lacking. Here we investigate whether Raman spectroscopy, a technique able to evaluate chemical content of biological samples, can provide additional insight into the origin of FLIm contrast. Methods: Six human coronary artery samples were imaged using FLIm (355 nm excitation)-Raman spectroscopy (785 nm excitation) via a multimodal fiber optic probe. The spatial distribution of molecular contrast in FLIm images was analyzed in relationship with histological findings. Raman data was investigated using an endmember technique and compared with histological findings. A descriptive modeling approach based on multivariate regression was used to identify Raman bands related with changes in lifetime in four spectral channels (violet: 387/35 nm, blue: 443/29 nm, green: 546/38 nm, and red: 628/53 nm). Results: Fluorescence lifetime variations in the violet, blue and green spectral bands were observed for distinct areas of each tissue sample associated with distinct pathologies. Analysis of Raman signals from areas associated with normal, pathological intimal thickening, and fibrocalcific regions demonstrated the presence of hydroxyapatite, collagenous proteins, carotene, cholesterol, and triglycerides. The FLIm and Raman descriptive modeling analysis indicated that lifetime increase in the violet spectral band was associated with increased presence of cholesterol and carotenes, a new finding consistent with LDL accumulation in atherosclerotic lesions, and not with collagen proteins, as expected from earlier studies. Conclusions: The systematic, quantitative analysis of the multimodal FLIm-Raman dataset using a descriptive modeling approach led to the identification of LDL accumulation as the primary source of lifetime contrast in atherosclerotic lesions in the violet spectral range. Earlier FLIm validation studies relying on histopathological findings had associated this contrast to increased collagen content, also present in advanced lesions, thus demonstrating the benefits of alternative validation methods.

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