Associations between carotid artery plaque burden, plaque characteristics, and cardiovascular events: The ARIC carotid magnetic resonance imaging study

Document Type



Office of the Provost; Cardiology


Importance: It remains unknown whether in an asymptomatic community-based cohort magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measures of plaque characteristics are independently associated with incident cardiovascular disease (CVD) events when adjusted for carotid artery (CA) wall thickness, a measure of plaque burden.
Objective: To assess associations of CA MRI plaque characteristics with incident CVD events.
Design, setting, and participants: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study is a prospective epidemiologic study of the incidence of CVD in 15 792 adults of which 2066 women and men were enrolled in the ARIC Carotid MRI substudy. ARIC participants were enrolled from 1987 to 1989, and the substudy was conducted between January 2004 and December 2005. Analysis began January 2017 and ended August 2020.
Exposures: Incident CVD events during a median (interquartile range [IQR]) follow-up time of 10.5 (8.1-10.9) years were assessed.
Main outcomes and measures: Proportional hazards Cox analyses were performed to ascertain associations between MRI variables of CA plaque burden and plaque characteristics.
Results: Of 15 792 ARIC participants, 2066 were enrolled in the substudy, of whom 1256 (701 women [55.8%]) had complete data and were eligible for incident CVD analyses. Carotid artery plaques in participants with incident CVD events (172 [13.7%]) compared with those without (1084 [86.3%]) had a higher normalized wall index (median [IQR], 0.48 [0.36-0.62] vs 0.43 [0.34-0.55]; P = .001), maximum CA wall thickness (median [IQR], 2.22 [1.37-3.52] mm vs 1.96 [1.29-2.85] mm; P = .01), maximum CA stenosis (median [IQR], 5% [0%-22%] vs 0% [0%-13%]; P < .001), and when present, a larger lipid core volume (median [IQR], 0.05 [0.02-0.11] mL vs 0.03 [0.01-0.07] mL; P = .03), respectively. The presence of a lipid core was independently associated with incident CVD events when adjusted for traditional CVD risk factors and maximum CA wall thickness (hazard ratio, 2.48 [95% CI, 1.36-4.51]; P = .003), whereas the presence of calcification was not. The frequency of intraplaque hemorrhage presence in this population of individuals free of CVD at baseline who were not recruited for carotid stenosis was too small to draw any meaningful conclusions (intraplaque hemorrhage presence: 68 of 1256 participants [5.4%]). Carotid artery lumen area and maximum stenosis, which were overall low, were independently associated with incident CVD events when adjusted for traditional CVD risk factors, as anticipated.
Conclusions and relevance: The presence of a CA lipid core on MRI is associated with incident CVD events independent of maximum CA wall thickness in asymptomatic participants.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication (Name of Journal)

JAMA Cardiology