Introduction: Anterior and posterior circulation atheroscleroses differ in vascular risk factors and stroke patterns. Posterior circulation stroke has worse clinical outcomes. However, few studies described the differentiation of plaque features between anterior and posterior circulation atheroscleroses via high-resolution vessel wall imaging (HR-VWI). We aimed to compare the plaque imaging features between anterior and posterior circulations to highlight the relevance of plaque imaging features to clinical events of ischemic stroke. Methods: Prospective data from a HR-VWI cohort of adult patients with acute ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack were retrospectively analyzed. Quantitative and qualitative measurements of atherosclerotic plaques along the middle cerebral arteries (MCAs), the basilar artery (BA), and the vertebral arteries (VAs) were conducted on HR-VWI. Vessels with stenotic degrees over 30% were identified on the matched time-of-flight magnetic resonance angiography (TOF-MRA) and visually classified into normal, irregular, stenotic, and occluded. The sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values for TOF-MRA in detecting abnormal vessels were calculated by using quantification on the basis of HR-VWI findings as the reference standard. Results: One hundred and one patients (median age, 64 years old; 62.4% males) were included in this study. A total of 292 plaques were identified, with 152 in the MCAs, 35 in the BA, and 105 in the VAs. The VAs possessed significantly higher enhancement index (EI) (median 38.37 vs. 18.40, p <0.001), more plaques with positive remodeling (76.2% vs. 57.2%, p = 0.002) and intraplaque hypo-intensity (43.8% vs. 12.5%, p <0.001) than the MCAs. The MCAs presented with more intraplaque hemorrhage (IPH) (20.4% vs. 8.6%, p = 0.014) than the VAs. The sensitivity and specificity of TOF-MRA for evaluating luminal stenosis were 89.0 (82.5–93.4) and 66.7 (24.1–94.0) in anterior circulation, respectively, and were 75.2 (66.7–82.2) and 27.3 (7.3–60.7) in posterior circulation, respectively. Conclusion: Our findings might elucidate the clinical events and outcomes in anterior and posterior circulation stroke. Posterior circulation atherosclerosis had higher EI and more plaques with hypo-intensity, suggesting a heavier atherosclerosis burden. Positive remodeling pattern in posterior circulation atherosclerosis might create an impression of “wider” vascular lumen, leading to possible underestimation of atherosclerosis burden of posterior circulation on TOF-MRA as compared to HR-VWI. Besides, anterior circulation atherosclerosis with IPH might be associated with plaque rupture and artery-to-artery embolism. Future studies are needed to verify these findings.

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