Tropoelastin a novel marker for plaque progression and instability: MRI of tropoelastin in atherosclerosis

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BACKGROUND – Elastolysis and ineffective elastogenesis favor the accumulation of tropoelastin, rather than cross-linked elastin, in atherosclerotic plaques. We developed gadolinium-labeled tropoelastin-specific magnetic resonance contrast agents (Gd-TESMAs) for tropoelastin imaging in animal models. METHODS AND RESULTS – Two peptides, VVGSPSAQDEASPLS and YPDHVQYTHY were selected to target tropoelastin. In vitro binding, relaxivity, and biodistribution experiments enabled characterization of the probes and selecting the best candidate for in vivo MRI. MRI was performed in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient (ApoE-/-) mice and New Zealand white rabbits with stable and rupture-prone plaques using Gd-TESMA. Additionally, human carotid endarterectomy specimens were imaged ex vivo. The VVGSPSAQDEASPLS-based probe discriminated between tropoelastin and cross-linked elastin (64±7% vs 1±2%, P=0.001), had high in vitro relaxivity in solution (r1-free=11.7±0.6mM−1s−1, r1-bound to tropoelastin = 44±1mM-1s-1) and favorable pharmacokinetics. In vivo mice vascular enhancement (4wks=0.13±0.007mm2, 8wks=0.22±0.01mm2, 12wks=0.33±0.01mm2, P<0.001) and R1 relaxation rate (4wks=0.90±0.01 s-1, 8wks=1.40±0.03 s-1, 12wks=1.87±0.04s-1, P<0.001) increased with atherosclerosis progression after Gd-TESMA injection. Conversely, statin-treated (0.13±0.01mm2, R1 =1.37±0.03s-1) and control (0.10±0.005mm2, R1 =0.87±0.05s-1) mice showed less enhancement. Rupture-prone rabbit plaques had higher R1 relaxation rate compared with stale plaques (R1=2.26±0.1s-1 vs R1=1.43±0.02s-1, P=0.001), after administration of Gd-TESMA that allowed detection of rupture-prone plaques with high sensitivity (84.4%) and specificity (92.3%). Increased vascular R1 relaxation rate was observed in carotid endarterectomy plaques after soaking (R1pre= 1.1±0.26 s-1 vs R1post= 3.0±0.1s-1, P=0.01). Ex vivo analyses confirmed the MRI findings and showed uptake of the contrast agent to be specific for tropoelastin. CONCLUSIONS – MRI of tropoelastin provides a novel biomarker for atherosclerotic plaque progression and instability.
Original languageEnglish
Article number10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.117.007303
JournalCirculation. Cardiovascular imaging
Issue number8
Early online date20 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Aug 2018


  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Extracellular matrix
  • elastin
  • tropoelastin
  • atherosclerosis


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