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Animal Models Of Atherosclerosis And Magnetic Resonance Imaging For Monitoring Plaque Progression

Antoine Millon, Emmanuelle Canet-Soulas, Loic Boussel, Zahi Fayad, Philippe Douek

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Atherosclerosis, the main cause of heart attack and stroke, is the leading cause of death in most modern countries. Preventing clinical events depends on a better understanding of the mechanism of atherosclerotic plaque destabilization. Our knowledge on the characteristics of vulnerable plaques in humans has grown past decades. Histological studies have provided a precise definition of high-risk lesions and novel imaging methods for human atherosclerotic plaque characterization have made significant progress. However the pathological mechanisms leading from stable lesions to the formation of vulnerable plaques remain uncertain and the related clinical events are unpredictable. An animal model mimicking human plaque destablization is required as well as an in vivo imaging method to assess and monitor atherosclerosis progression. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is increasingly used for in vivo assessment of atherosclerotic plaques in the human carotids. MRI provides well-characterized morphological and functional features of human atherosclerotic plaque which can be also assessed in animal models. This review summarizes the most common species used as animal models for experimental atherosclerosis, the techniques to induce atherosclerosis and to obtain vulnerable plaques, together with the role of MRI for monitoring atherosclerotic plaques in animals.