Carotid atherosclerosis is a risk factor for ischemic stroke, one of the main causes of mortality and disability worldwide. The disease is characterized by plaques, heterogeneous deposits of lipids, and necrotic debris in the vascular wall, which grow gradually and may remain asymptomatic for decades. However, at some point a plaque can evolve to a highrisk plaque phenotype, which may trigger a cerebrovascular event. Lipids play a key role in the development and progression of atherosclerosis, but the nature of their involvement is not fully understood. Using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry imaging, we visualized the distribution of approximately 200 different lipid signals, originating of >90 uniquely assigned species, in 106 tissue sections of 12 human carotid atherosclerotic plaques. We performed unsupervised classification of the mass spectrometry dataset, as well as a histology-directed multivariate analysis. These data allowed us to extract the spatial lipid patterns associated withmorphological plaque features in advanced plaques from a symptomatic population, revealing spatial lipid patterns in atherosclerosis and their relation to histological tissue type. The abundances of sphingomyelin and oxidized cholesteryl ester species were elevated specifically in necrotic intima areas, whereas diacylglycerols and triacylglycerols were spatially correlated to areas containing the coagulation protein fibrin. These results demonstrate a clear colocalization between plaque features and specific lipid classes, as well as individual lipid species in high-risk atherosclerotic plaques.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This project was funded by ZonMw - project number: 91113020, Dutch Heart Foundation - project number: NHS2014T096, Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek - project number: 16131.
© 2021 THE AUTHORS.