Molecular Imaging of Angiogenesis in Cardiovascular Diseases

Review Article

J Mol Biol & Mol Imaging. 2015;2(1): 1012.

Molecular Imaging of Angiogenesis in Cardiovascular Diseases

Ziwei Huang1, Wei Du1, Zuo-Xiang He2, Zongjin Li1*

1Department of Pathophysiology, Nankai University School of Medicine, China

2Department of Cardiac Nuclear Imaging, Fuwai Hospital, Peking Union Medical College & Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, China

*Corresponding author: Zongjin Li, MD, Nankai University School of Medicine, China

Received: November 27, 2014; Accepted: January 02, 2015; Published: January 06, 2015


Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are leading cause of mortality and morbidity worldwide. Recent advances in molecular imaging provide invaluable tools for evaluating angiogenesis in CVD. It has been widely regarded that angiogenic therapy is an attractive approach for treating ischemic heart disease; conversely, a variety of studies suggest that neovascularization contributes to the growth of atherosclerotic lesions and is a key factor in plaque destabilization leading to rupture. Moreover, angiogenesis is not only critical for atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases, but also for assessing the consequences of therapeutic intervention. The developments of potential biological targets for imaging angiogenesis and imaging tools have expanded our eyesight to encompass many important components of the processes of angiogenesis, either in physiological activities or pathological progressions. This review will focus on recent advances on noninvasive approaches for direct evaluation of the molecular events associated with angiogenesis in CVD, as well for prediction responses and tracking therapeutic efficacy of angiogenic therapy.

Keywords: Molecular imaging; Angiogenesis; Cardiovascular disease


CVD: Cardiovascular Disease; MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging; PET: Positron Emission Tomography; SPECT: Single Photon Emission Tomography; RGD: Arg-Gly-Asp peptides; VEGF: Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor


The concept and practice of molecular imaging, defined as the in vivo characterization and measurement of biological processes at cellular and molecular level within living organisms, has been present for decades and originated with targeted nuclear imaging [1, 2]. Non-invasive molecular imaging techniques, such as computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound (US), positron emission tomography (PET)/single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), have already been the backbone for diseases detection and diagnosis [3-5].

Ischemic cardiovascular disease (CVD) accounts for approximately 30% of all deaths in the United States [6]. The attempts to influence the processes of angiogenesis in atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases for therapeutic propose have emerged as a major unresolved issue. Angiogenic therapy has been widely regarded as an attractive approach for treating ischemic heart disease; conversely, a variety of studies suggest that neovascularization contributes to the growth of atherosclerotic lesions and is a key factor in plaque destabilization leading to rupture [7]. Though improvements in understanding the CVD have helped reduce the death rate, a clearer prescription of angiogenesis accounting for the development of atherosclerosis, stroke, myocardial infarction and therapeutic angiogenesis is required. With the abilities of living imaging specific molecular targets and fundamental biological processes in vivo, molecular imaging approaches will be critical for monitoring angiogenesis processes in diseases, as well as evaluating physiological consequences of the therapeutic intervention.

Modalities of Molecular Imaging

Molecular imaging aims at sensing specific molecular targets, fundamental biological processes and certain cell types in living subjects [2]. A number of methods are available to track molecular events in vivo by molecular imaging [4] (Figure 1). The essence of molecular imaging is the interaction between probes and targeted markers. Initially, antigens on cell-specific surface or epitopes with radio-labeled monoclonal antibodies are regarded as the beginning of imaging methods. Often, the probes are associated with specific molecular biological events in physiological or pathological processes [3]. Successful molecular imaging relies on both probes with high affinity, sensitivity, specificity and innovations of imaging technologies. Positron emission tomography (PET) and single photon emission tomography (SPECT) are two traditional main nuclear modalities for imaging of molecular and cellular processes in vivo. Besides the superior sensitivity, these two imaging systems also have another important advantage of wide range of imaging probes accessible for analyzing molecular processes in vivo. Ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also help to assess cardiovascular diseases and therapeutic interventions. MRI has good spatial resolution and tissue penetration and a high susceptibility to motion artifacts; however, there are not as many probes available as PET and SPECT.