Cardiac computed tomography radiomics: An emerging tool for the non-invasive assessment of coronary atherosclerosis

Alessandro Murgia, Antonella Balestrieri, Paola Crivelli, Jasjit S. Suri, Maurizio Conti, Filippo Cademartiri, Luca Saba

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In the last decades, significant advances have been made in the preventive approaches to cardiovascular disease. Even so, coronary artery disease remains one of the main causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Invasive imaging modalities, such as intravascular ultrasound or optical coherence tomography, have played a key role in the comprehension of the pathological processes underlying myocardial infarction and cerebrovascular disease. These imaging techniques have contributed greatly to the identification and phenotyping of the culprit lesion, the so-called vulnerable plaque. Coronary computed tomographic angiography (CCTA) has emerged in more recent years as the non-invasive modality of choice in the study of coronary atherosclerosis, showing in many studies a diagnostic yield comparable to invasive approaches. Moreover, being able to describe extra-luminal characteristics of the affected vessel, CCTA has greatly contributed towards shifting the attention of researchers from the mere quantification of luminal stenosis to the identification of adverse plaque features, which appear to have a stronger prognostic value. However, the identification of some of the hallmarks of vulnerable plaques is qualitative in nature and, therefore, subject to some degree of inter-reader variability. Moreover, CCTA is still unable to identify some fine markers of plaque vulnerability which can be detected by invasive techniques, such as neovascularization and plaque erosion, among others. Nonetheless, radiological images can be viewed as vast 3-D datasets which, via the use of recent technology, allow for the extraction of numerous quantitative features that may be used to accurately phenotype a given lesion. Radiomics is the process of extrapolating innumerable parameters from a given region of interest, with the goal of establishing correlations between quantitative variables and clinical data. These datasets can then be manipulated to create predictive models via the use of automated algorithms in a process called machine learning. As a result of these approaches, radiological images may offer information regarding the characterization of a plaque which can go much beyond the boundaries of what can be qualitatively asserted by the human eye, contributing to expanding the knowledge of the disease and ultimately assist clinical decisions. Thus far, radiomics has found its more consistent area of application in the field of oncology; to present date, the amount of clinical data regarding coronary artery disease is still relatively small, partly due to the technical difficulties associated with the implementation of such techniques to the study of a small and geometrically complex lesion such as the coronary plaque. The present review, after a summary of the imaging modalities most commonly used nowadays in the study of coronary plaques, will provide a perspective on the application of radiomic analysis to coronary artery disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2005-2017
Number of pages13
JournalCardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Coronary atherosclerosis
  • Coronary plaques
  • Imaging modalities
  • Radiomics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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