The atherosclerotic process that results in coronary artery disease (CAD) is recognized to be a generalized process that may involve the entire vasculature. The association between CAD and atherosclerotic plaques in the thoracic aorta has often been reported using transesophageal echocardiography. An autopsy study showed plaques in the abdominal aorta, but not in the thoracic aorta, to be severe in patients with cardiac events. However, studies evaluating an association between abdominal aortic plaques and CAD are scarce. Recently, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has become a useful tool for the noninvasive evaluation of atherosclerotic plaques in both the thoracic and abdominal aortas. Plaques in the thoracic and abdominal aortas were found to be characteristically associated with hypercholesterolemia and smoking, respectively, suggesting different susceptibilities to risk factors. Because patients have various risk factors, it seems to be preferable to evaluate atherosclerosis in multiple vascular beds than in just 1 bed. Magnetic resonance imaging can evaluate atherosclerosis in multiple vascular beds in the same examination session. Complex aortic plaques, especially in the abdominal aorta, were found to be associated with myocardial infarction and complex coronary lesions, suggesting a link between aortic and coronary plaque instability. Aortic MRI may thus be useful for identifying vulnerable patients. Moreover, MRI is a powerful tool to serially evaluate plaque progression and regression. Intensive lipid-lowering therapy can regress aortic plaques, but the susceptibility to lipid lowering and the process of plaque regression may differ between the thoracic and abdominal aortic plaques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-355
Number of pages7
JournalTopics in Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Atherosclerotic plaque
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Lipid lowering
  • Risk factors


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