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Are soft echoes really soft? Intravascular ultrasound assessment of mechanical properties in human atherosclerotic tissue.

  • Author(s): Hiro, T
  • Leung, CY
  • De Guzman, S
  • Caiozzo, VJ
  • Farvid, AR
  • Karimi, H
  • Helfant, RH
  • Tobis, JM
  • et al.

To examine the accuracy of intravascular ultrasound (IVUS) in assessing the biophysical properties of atherosclerotic plaque, 33 human iliac arteries were imaged with a 25 MHz IVUS transducer and classified into four groups on the basis of IVUS appearance: minimally diseased arterial wall, bright echogenic plaque with acoustic shadowing, bright echogenic plaque without shadowing, and hypoechogenic plaque (so-called "soft echoes"). The hardness of each plaque was assessed with an ultrasensitive compression ergonometer. The radial static stress-strain relations fit well (r > 0.98) to exponential curves, providing a compression stiffness constant (K) defined as the coefficient of the exponential power. K for bright echogenic plaque with shadowing was significantly greater than that of the other tissues. However, K among minimally diseased entire arterial wall, hypoechogenic plaque, and bright echogenic plaque without shadowing was not significantly different, but these tissues are not physically soft compared with adipose tissue. Therefore, tissue characterization by IVUS distinguishes calcified from noncalcified plaque and accurately predicts its biomechanical hardness. However, soft echoes, although less firm than calcium, do not necessarily correspond to soft tissue.

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