Mapping elasticity moduli of atherosclerotic plaque in situ via atomic force microscopy

Philippe Tracqui, Alexis Broisat, Jackub Toczek, Nicolas Mesnier, Jacques Ohayon, Laurent Riou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Several studies have suggested that evolving mechanical stresses and strains drive atherosclerotic plaque development and vulnerability. Especially, stress distribution in the plaque fibrous capsule is an important determinant for the risk of vulnerable plaque rupture. Knowledge of the stiffness of atherosclerotic plaque components is therefore of critical importance. In this work, force mapping experiments using atomic force microscopy (AFM) were conducted in apolipoprotein E-deficient (ApoE-/-) mouse, which represents the most widely used experimental model for studying mechanisms underlying the development of atherosclerotic lesions. To obtain the elastic material properties of fibrous caps and lipidic cores of atherosclerotic plaques, serial cross-sections of aortic arch lesions were probed at different sites. Atherosclerotic plaque sub-structures were subdivided into cellular fibrotic, hypocellular fibrotic and lipidic rich areas according to histological staining. Hertz's contact mechanics were used to determine elasticity (Young's) moduli that were related to the underlying histological plaque structure. Cellular fibrotic regions exhibit a mean Young modulus of 10.4±5.7kPa. Hypocellular fibrous caps were almost six-times stiffer, with average modulus value of 59.4±47.4kPa, locally rising up to ∼250kPa. Lipid rich areas exhibit a rather large range of Young's moduli, with average value of 5.5±3.5kPa. Such precise quantification of plaque stiffness heterogeneity will allow investigators to have prospectively a better monitoring of atherosclerotic disease evolution, including arterial wall remodeling and plaque rupture, in response to mechanical constraints imposed by vascular shear stress and blood pressure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-123
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2011


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Force-spectroscopy
  • Stiffness mapping
  • Vulnerable plaque

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology


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